Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is for people who find it hard to work because of a disability or health condition. We explain ESA for young people.

picture of a 10 pence coin

Are you entitled to an Employment and Support Allowance?

What is Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)?

There are two types of ESA:

1. Contribution-based ESA: for people who’ve been in work for the last two years and paid National Insurance Contributions. Unless you have a severe disability, you can only receive this for up to 365 days.

2. Income-related ESA: for people who can’t get contribution-based ESA and have a low (or no) income and savings under £16,000.

How do I apply for ESA?

  • To qualify for ESA, you need to show that you’re too ill or disabled to work, and meet savings and earnings requirements.
  • You can’t get income-related ESA if you have a partner who’s working 24 hours a week or more, and you can’t get either type of ESA if you or your partner get Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), Income Support or income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA).
  • You can apply by calling 0800 055 6688 (textphone 0800 023 4888) between 8am-6pm Monday to Friday. An advisor will take you through the application process, asking questions about your disability or health condition. You can also request the form in the post, or download it from Gov.uk.

How much ESA will I get?

For the first 13 weeks of your claim, your capability for work is being assessed and you get a reduced amount. If you’re single and under 25 you’ll get £57.35 a week if you don’t have other income or savings.

From the 14th week, you’d get £101.15 a week if it was considered you have some capability for work, or £108.15 if you’re considered incapable of work.

These amounts can be reduced if you (or a partner that you live with) have other income, or savings over £6000.

There are also additions and premiums that you may be able to get if you have dependants or a severe disability. These are only available to people claiming income-related ESA, but if you’re claiming contribution-based JSA and would be entitled, then you can also claim income-based ESA.

The Work Capability Assessment

After you’ve made your claim, you’ll start the 13-week Work Capability Assessment. In most cases, you’ll have to complete a questionnaire (ESA50) about your ability to complete everyday tasks. You need to return this within four weeks of the date on the accompanying letter.

Make sure they understand your sitution

Don’t underplay your condition when you fill in the questionnaire. If doing something repeatedly causes problems, let them know.

Make sure you fill the form in as fully as possible. This guide will help. Include any evidence from your GP, social worker, therapist or any health professional. Jobcentre Plus might also your doctor (GP) to write a report.

The face-to-face assessment & interview

Most people will also have to have a face-to-face assessment. Again, it’s important that you let them know everything you struggle with. If you’re asked to walk around the room and you know you’d have a problem walking further, tell them. If they don’t ask about something that’s relevant, tell them anyway. You can bring someone with you for support if you need.

You’ll also normally have a ‘work-focused interview’ where you discuss what work you’re able to do, how you will move towards this, and what support is available to you.

The results of the Work Capability Assessment decide whether you go into the ‘Work-Related Activity Group’ for people who can do some work, or the ‘Support Group’ for those with a severely limiting disability.

If you’re placed in the Work-related Activity Group, then you’ll have to attend work-focused interviews and possibly a mandatory work-related activity, such attending as a training course. If you don’t attend then you can have your benefit ‘sanctioned’. You shouldn’t be sanctioned if you have a good reason for not attending, such as because you were too ill, or because of a transport failure.

ESA sanctions are open-ended, so the sanction will remain until you attend the interview or activity that you failed to attend. This will be followed by an extra fixed-period sanction of one week for the first failure, two weeks for the second, and four weeks for any further failures within 52 weeks.

Support Group

If you’re in the support group you don’t have to work, so you can’t be sanctioned.

My ESA claim’s been rejected, what shall I do?

If your claim is rejected, you think that you’ve been put into the wrong group, or you’ve been sanctioned, you can challenge the decision (details of how you do this will be on the decision letter).

If the reasons for the decision aren’t clear, you should ask for a written explanation. You can then ask for the decision to be looked at again – this is called a ‘mandatory reconsideration’ (you can skip this step if you live in Northern Ireland).

If you’re still not happy with decision you can make an appeal.

Find out more about appealing ESA and other benefits.

Can I work while claiming ESA?

It’s possible to do some work without it affecting your claim – this is called ‘permitted work’. You can earn:

  • Up to £20 a week indefinitely
  • Up to £101 a week (working less than 16 hours) for up to 52 weeks.
  • Up to £101 a week in certain circumstances where you’re doing work that’s supervised by an organisation whose job it is to arrange work for disabled people. You can do this indefinitely.

Can I study and claim ESA?

If you get contribution-based ESA, you can study part-time or full-time without affecting your claim.

Most full-time students can’t get income-related ESA, but you can if you’re getting DLA or PIPs.

If you study part-time it shouldn’t affect your claim for income-related ESA (although be aware that being able to study part-time may show you can do a certain amount of work).

For more advice on studying and claiming ESA, contact the Disabled Students Helpline on 0800 328 5050 (open Tuesdays 11.30am-1.30pm, and Thursdays 1.30pm-3.30pm). You can also email students@disabilityrightsuk.org.

How do student loans affect income-based ESA?

If you get student support in the form of a grant or a loan, this might well reduce the amount of income-related ESA that you get (it won’t affect contribution-based ESA). Get more information here.

Will Universal Credit (UC) change ESA?

Over the next four or so years (nothing is set in stone yet), income-related ESA will become part of the new UC System (contribution-based ESA will stay separate). The basic idea of proving that you have limited capability for work will stay the same, but there will be other changes – see our Universal Credit article for more information.

If you’re making a new claim, you’ll be told whether to claim for ESA or UC, depending on where you live. If you’re already claiming ESA, then the current plan is that you’ll be moved to ESA sometime between 2016 and 2018.

Where can I go for help with ESA?

Getting benefits is often a frustrating process. But there are lots of places you can go for help:

  • Citizen’s advice volunteers know all about the benefits system and can help you understand your rights. You can visit your local bureau to get face-to-face advice and support. You must remember to bring along details of your benefits and general financial situation.
  • This benefits calculator from Turn2us shows you how much benefit you should be getting – many people don’t realise how much they’re entitled to.
  • If you want to challenge a decision about your benefit, you can appeal.

Unfortunately we are unable to offer benefits advice at The Mix, but we can give emotional support and guide you to the best places for expert advice if you give us a call on 0808 808 4994


Remember to tell your benefits advisor if your circumstances change. If you don’t you could face a £50 fine, as well as having to pay back any extra benefit. See GOV.UK for more information.

Next Steps

  • Use the Turn2Us calculator to work out what benefits and grants you're entitled to, or call their helpline on 0808 802 2000
  • Moving out for the first time? Get the real Home Truths.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.



By Danny Sherwood

Updated on 29-Sep-2015