Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

If you’re ill or disabled, Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) offers you: financial support if you’re unable to work; personalised help so that you can work if you’re able to. You can apply for ESA if you’re employed, self-employed or unemployed.

There are two types of ESA; contribution based and income related.

  • Contribution based ESA is available to people who have paid enough National Insurance contributions.
  • Income related ESA is available if your income and savings are below a certain amount. You do not have to have paid any National Insurance Contributions to get income related ESA. To claim you must have less than £16,000 in savings and if you have a partner, they must work less than 24 hours a week.

Depending on your circumstances you may be able to get both types of ESA, but you will have to be assessed to find out whether you are eligible.

So what's changed?

From 1 May 2012 three key changes happened:

  • Payment of contribution based ESA is being limited to 365 days. This includes any time you were already receiving ESA before this change. For example, if you had already received contribution based ESA for 9 months on 1 May; you will only receive it for another 3 months. However, time in the support group is ignored, and there may be certain reasons why you can stay on, or return to, contribution based ESA.
  • ESA in youth will no longer be available. This means that if you are aged between 16 and 20 (or under 25 if in education or training at least 3 months immediately before turning 20) you will not be able to claim for contribution-based ESA without paying National Insurance contributions. All new claims will need to meet the usual conditions.
  • People on incapacity benefits are being reassessed under ESA. This change is already happening and will continue until 2014. The reassessment will continue until 2014 when everybody should have been assessed and if necessary, moved onto ESA.

How do I claim ESA?

There are a number of ways to claim:

  • Online (by printing and filling in a paper form)
  • Over the telephone 0800 055 6688
  • By textphone 0800 023 4888

If you choose to make a claim over the telephone or by textphone, an advisor from Jobcentre Plus will help you go through the application and will fill in the form for you.

Calls to 0800 are free from BT landlines but you may be charged if you call from a mobile, call from abroad or if your landline is with a company other than BT.

What happens after I have claimed?

Once you submit your claim, you enter the assessment phase which usually lasts for 13 weeks. A Work Capability Assessment is carried out to decide whether you have an illness or disability that limits your ability to work. You may have to attend a medical. You will be paid the basic rate of ESA during this time.

After around 14 weeks, you move onto the main phase of ESA where you will be paid an extra amount on top of the basic rate. The main phase is split into two groups:

  • Support group. If your illness or disability has a serious effect on your ability to work, then you won’t be expected to work, although you can do voluntary work if you want to. If you are in this group you will receive an extra “support” amount on top of your basic rate of ESA.
  • Work-related activity group. In this group you must go to work-focused interviews with your personal adviser and you may have to take part in work-related activities. Your ESA may be reduced if you do not take part these activities. You will get a work-related activity amount on top of your basic rate of ESA. You do not need to attend the work-focused interviews until it has been confirmed that you are in this group. Sometimes a partner also has to attend work focused interviews.

What happens if I am refused ESA?

You can appeal to an independent tribunal. You should do this within one month of receiving your decision letter. You should also get independent advice.