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. In this article we answer common questions like, ‘How much ESA will I get?’ and outline how to claim ‘new style’ ESA.

picture of a 10 pence coin

Are you entitled to an Employment and Support Allowance?

What is Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)?

Income-related Employment and Support Allowance

ESA is split into two types. The first type is income-related Employment and Support Allowance, which has mostly been replaced by Universal Credit at this point. You can still get it if you’re already on income-related ESA at present, or if you (or your partner) are getting contribution-based ESA and your claim started before you could claim Universal Credit in your area.

Contributory/’New Style’ Employment and Support Allowance

The second type of ESA is known as Contributory/’New Style’ Employment and Support Allowance. If you’ve paid enough national insurance contributions and have limited capability for work, this is the ESA for you. You are only entitled to ESA whilst you are working if your work counts as ‘permitted work.’ Normally this means you work less than 16 hours/do not earn more than £143 a week.

Contributory/New Style Employment and Support Allowance can be paid with income-related ESA if you qualify for both. If you qualify for Universal Credit instead of income-related ESA, you can get contribution-based ESA at the same time as Universal Credit.

How to apply for ESA

You can apply for ESA 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 here.

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 £59.20 a week if you don’t have other income or savings, or £74.70 if you’re 25 or over.

You will have an assessment called the Work Capability assessment. This assesses whether you have limited capability for work to continue getting ESA. If you pass the assessment you will either be placed in the work-related activity group or the support group.

From the 14th week, you’d get £74.70 per week if you are single and put in the work-related activity group.

Your ESA would go up to £114.10 if you are single and placed in the support group, and would be even higher if you are entitled to any extra premiums on Income-related ESA.

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 ESA 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.

Can I check my ESA claim online

You might be wondering, ‘Can I check my ESA claim online?’, but in most cases the Department for Work and Pensions will send you a letter unless they’ve already asked if you’d prefer electronic communications only.

Describing your situation in your ESA claim

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, including any evidence from your GP, social worker, therapist or any health professional. Jobcentre Plus might also want your doctor (GP) to write a report.

If you need any help filling out the form, you might want to contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau.

The face-to-face assessment

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.

The results of the Work Capability Assessment decide whether you go into the ‘Work-Related Activity Group’ for people who are expected to do work-related activity to improve their chances of finding work, or the ‘Support Group’ for people who don’t have to take part in work-related activity due to their severely limiting disabilities.

Facing sanctions if you’re in the work-related activity group

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 as attending a training course. If you don’t attend then you might face sanctions. 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.

Read more about sanctions here.

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.

What to do if your ESA claim is rejected

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 can ask for a written explanation. If you disagree with the decision, you can ask for the decision to be looked at again – this is called a ‘mandatory reconsideration’. You should ask for a mandatory reconsideration within one month of the date of the decision.

If you’re still not happy with the mandatory reconsideration decision, you can make an appeal.

Find out more about appealing ESA and other benefits.

How much can I work while claiming ESA?

It’s possible to do some work without it affecting your claim (known as ‘permitted work’), as long as both of the following apply:

  • you work less than 16 hours a week
  • you do not earn more than £143 a week

Can I study and claim ESA?

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

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). And don’t forget, income-related ESA has been replaced by Universal Credit now if you’re making a new claim.

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 [email protected].

Unfortunately we are unable to offer specific 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.

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
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.



By Holly Turner

Updated on 06-Sep-2021