Employment and Support Allowance 2019

As the name suggests, the Employment and Support Allowance offers invaluable financial and personalised support for people who are ill or disabled.

The financial support is for people whose illness or disability means they are unable to work. Whereas, the personalised, work-related support helps to create ways for those who can work – to start working and then stay in the workplace.

Furthermore, you can apply for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) no matter whether you are unemployed, employed, or self-employed.

If you meet Universal Credit eligibility criteria you might also get it at the same time (or instead of) the ‘new style’ ESA. But, if you claim certain other benefits (e.g. Incapacity Benefit or Income Support) you might find yourself being transferred over to ESA anyway.

Note: The Employment and Support Allowance 2019 guide is also available in Welsh language (Cymraeg) via the GOV.UK website.

How ESA Claims are Assessed

If your assessment shows you are entitled to claim ESA, they will place you into one of two different groups, either a:

  • Work-related activity group (where you need to attend regular interviews with a benefits adviser).
  • Support group (where you do not need to attend any interviews).

In some cases, you would also need to attend a Work Capability Assessment. The primary purpose would be to determine how an illness or disability affects your ability to work.

Employment and Support Allowance Rates

The amount of ESA you can get is going to depend on your personal circumstances (e.g. which type you qualify for, your income, and your place in the assessment process).

ESA Financial Support

In most cases, after making a claim for Employment and Support Allowance the assessment rate is available for thirteen (13) weeks. Even so, it is your age that will determine how much you get, that being:

  • Up to £57.90 a week (for claimants aged under 25)
  • Up to £73.10 a week (for claimants aged 25 and older)

Following that, assuming they award you full entitlement for ESA, they will place you in one of the two groups. Hence, you would then receive (either):

  • Up to £73.10 a week (if you get placed in the work-related activity group)
  • Up to £111.65 a week (if you get placed in the support group)

Note: As a rule, people placed in the work-related activity group before the 3rd of April 2017 will be receiving a higher rate of ESA. Review how a benefits calculator works to check how much you can get.

Being placed in the support group (while claiming the income-related types of ESA) means you would also get the enhanced disability premium at either £16.80 or £24.10 per week.

Depending on the severity of your illness or disability, you may also meet the severe disability premium eligibility criteria with rates of either £65.85 or £131.70 per week.

What if your assessment takes longer than thirteen weeks to process? If it happens, they will backdate your benefit to the 14th week of the claim.

How the Benefit Cap affects ESA

The benefit cap restricts the total amount of welfare benefits that most people can get (e.g. between the age of 16 and the State Pension age). But, the upper limit does not affect people placed in the ESA support group.

The benefits office will place people entitled to claim the Employment Support Allowance into the work-related activity group or the support group.

If you’re placed in the ESA work-related group you will need to attend regular interviews with an adviser. They will help you to achieve job goals and improve your work skills.

Support Group

If you’re placed in the ESA support group you will not need to attend interviews. But, you can still ask to discuss your situation with a personal adviser.

The benefits department places people in the support group when their illness or disability severely limits what they can do (according to the GOV.UK website).

How Long Can You Get Employment and Support Allowance?

  • The ‘new style’ and contribution-based ESA can last for a period of up to 365 days (for claimants in the work-related activity group).
  • There is no time limit for people placed in the support group (or for anyone getting the income-based Employment and Support Allowance).

Benefits Sanctions

There are several reasons why you might get your ESA rates reduced (e.g. failing to attend interviews or carry out pre-agreed work-related activities). Furthermore, the rate reduction can continue for a period of up to four (4) weeks after restarting the interviews or work activities.

You would receive a ‘sanction letter’ if it happens. So, it would be important to notify your ESA adviser if there is a valid reason for missing your interview.

The department will send you another letter if they decide to give you a benefit sanction. Even so, it would not affect your benefits until they finalise the decision to sanction you.

It would be important to contact your local council without delay if you are claiming Housing Benefit or Council Tax Reduction. They will explain how to continue getting the financial support from these benefits.

People placed in the support group will not get sanctioned. But, anyone else receiving a sanction can make a request for a ‘hardship payment’ or appeal a benefit decision (e.g. have it looked at again).

Eligibility for Hardship Payments

Hardship payments are available for claimants who have their income-related ESA reduced (e.g. due to a sanction or a fraud penalty). What’s more, there would be no requirement to pay back a hardship payment if you can get it.

A hardship payment would be a reduced amount of the current rates of ESA (most often 60% or 80% of the basic rate). As a general rule, your circumstances would determine the amount of reduction applied.

Providing you are at least eighteen (18) years old, you can get a hardship payment to cover things like food, heating, rent, and other family essentials.

Your Jobcentre Plus adviser or work coach will explain more about how to claim a hardship payment.

Jobcentre Plus
Telephone: 0800 169 0310
Textphone: 0800 169 0314
NGT text relay (if you cannot hear or speak on the phone): 18001 then 0800 169 0310
Welsh language: 0800 328 1744
Monday to Friday: 8am to 6pm
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How is Employment and Support Allowance Paid?

Like almost all benefits, pensions, and allowances, the money would go straight into your bank account, building society, or credit union account. Another section explains more on how to have your benefits paid (and when).

Note: Once you have been getting income-related ESA for a minimum of six (6) months you would also be able to apply for a Budgeting Loan.

The Three Types of ESA

There are three different and distinct types of Employment and Support Allowance. This section explains how your circumstances will determine which type you might get.

‘New Style’ ESA

To meet the eligibility criteria for the ‘new style’ Employment and Support Allowance you will need to (all):

  • Have worked as an employee (or been self-employed).
  • Paid National Insurance contributions in the previous two or three years (National Insurance credits also count).
  • Have a disability or illness that prevents you from working.

Your income and savings (or that of your partner if you have one) does not affect how much of the ‘new style’ ESA you will get.

Claiming the ‘New style’ ESA and Universal Credit

How to claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

If you qualify for Universal Credit you could also get UC payments at the same time as the ‘new-style’ ESA payments, or instead of them.

As a result, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) would deduct the ‘new style’ ESA payment from the Universal Credit payment – for anyone who gets them both at the same time. Hence, there is no guarantee of getting any extra money.

Contribution-based ESA

You must have a disability or an illness that stops you from working to apply for contribution-based ESA, and you (either):

  • Receive the severe disability premium (or you qualify for it).
  • Received (or were entitled to receive) the severe disability premium within the last month and you still meet the eligibility criteria for it.

Also, you will need to:

  • Have worked as an employee (or been self-employed).
  • Paid National Insurance contributions in the previous two or three years (National Insurance credits also count).

Your income and savings (or that of your partner if you have one) does not affect how much of the contribution-based ESA you will get.

Income-based ESA

You must have a disability or an illness that stops you from working to apply for income-based ESA, and you (either):

  • Receive the severe disability premium (or you qualify for it).
  • Received (or were entitled to receive) the severe disability premium within the last month and you still meet the eligibility criteria for it.

Any National Insurance contributions made in the previous two to three years would not affect your eligibility to claim it.

Reapplying for Employment and Support Allowance

In some cases, you can re-apply for ESA after the contribution-based or ‘new-style’ finishes. It would need to be at least twelve (12) weeks after it ends, but you might qualify again if:

  • You paid enough National Insurance contributions during the previous two (2) full tax years before the actual tax year that you claim in.
  • The DWP decides to place you in the support group – due to health deterioration.

Employment and Support Allowance Eligibility

The conditions for claiming ESA include having an illness or disability that affects your ability to perform work, and:

  • Having not yet reached the State Pension age.
  • Not getting Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) or Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) and you are not back in work.
  • Not receiving the Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA).

If this criteria applies to your situation and circumstances you will be able to apply for the Employment Support Allowance, no matter whether you are:

  • A student
  • Employed
  • Self-employed
  • Unemployed

ESA Health and Work Conversation

In most cases, you will need to have a health and work conversation around four weeks after starting a claim for ESA. The main purpose is to discuss what kind of support you are going to need.

Claimants who are in hospital or have a terminal illness do not usually need to have a health and work conversation.

But, it is important to understand that failing to attend a scheduled conversation may result in a reduction of your benefits.

If You Lived or Worked Abroad

Living or working overseas of the United Kingdom does not necessarily mean you cannot get ESA. But, you would need to have paid enough UK National Insurance contributions.

As a rule, the equivalent NI paid in one of the countries that the United Kingdom has an agreement with would also count.

Capability for Work Questionnaire

You may need to have a Work Capability Assessment as part of your claim. If so, the Department for Work and Pensions will send you a letter that tells you where to go and what you will need to do.

Hence, you would need to fill in the ‘Capability for work questionnaire (ESA50)‘ as part of your application. It is not a claim form. But, the answers you give should explain how your illness or disability affects your ability to complete everyday tasks.

You might be able to get an audio recording of your face-to-face assessment. There is a different ‘capability for work’ questionnaire used in Northern Ireland.

Note: You can have your benefits stopped if you refuse to fill in the questionnaire or you fail to go for your assessment.

Making a Repeat Claim for Employment Support Allowance

It is unlikely that you will be eligible for claiming ESA again if your Work Capability Assessment determines that you were capable of carrying out some work-related activities.

However, there are two main exceptions to this rule, such as if:

  • You are making a claim for a new type of condition.
  • Your current health condition has become a lot worse.

Working and Claiming for ESA

The amount you get paid, and the number of hours you work, will determine whether you can work and still claim Employment and Support Allowance.

‘Permitted Work’ Explained

As a rule, doing types of ‘permitted work’ will not affect your claim, and there is no limit on how long it can last, providing (both):

  • You do not earn more than £131.50 a week.
  • You are working for less than sixteen (16) hours per week.

Supported Permitted Work

If you are doing ‘supported permitted work’ you can earn up to £131.50 a week without it affecting your claim. A general description of ‘supported permitted work’ would be when (either):

  • It is part of a treatment programme.
  • It’s supervised by someone from a local council or voluntary organisation as part of their job (e.g. arranging work for disabled people).

You will need to fill in the ESA permitted work form PW1 if you start working. Send the completed form to the Jobcentre Plus office that is dealing with your benefit.

Even though doing volunteer work is unlikely to affect your ESA payments, you would need to inform Jobcentre Plus if you start to perform this kind of activity.

How Income and Savings affect ESA

Different types of income can affect the income-related types of ESA. HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) will consider income as:

  • Money that you and your partner get (e.g. earnings)
  • Savings valued over £6,000
  • Money received from a pension scheme

Also, you would not qualify for the income-related type of ESA if your savings go over £16,000. But, your savings would not affect a claim for the ‘new style’ or contribution-based types.

How to Claim Employment and Support Allowance

There are several different ways to apply for ESA – depending on which type you are applying for.

During your assessment, you will have already learned when to send your fit note for your ESA claim (e.g. ‘doctor’s note’ or ‘sick note’).

Claiming ‘New Style’ ESA

You must use the Employment and Support Allowance claim form (NSESAF1) available on the GOV.UK website to apply for the ‘new style’ ESA. You can also get a claim form from your local Jobcentre Plus.

Making a ‘New Claim Appointment’

You can make a ‘new claim appointment’ by phoning the Universal Credit helpline or by calling in person to your local Jobcentre Plus branch.

Universal Credit Helpline
Telephone: 0800 328 5644
Textphone: 0800 328 1344
Next Generation Text Service (if you cannot hear or speak on the phone): 18001 then 0800 328 5644
Welsh language telephone: 0800 328 1744
Monday to Friday: 8am to 6pm

You will need to take some documents with you when you attend your appointment, such as:

  • The filled-in claim form (NSESAF1)
  • Fit note (details above)
  • A document that proves your identity
  • Proof of address
  • Proof of any pensions and health insurance payments you get

The claim form explains more about what documents you can use for proving your identity and your address.

You can either use ESA1 form or phone the contact centre to make an application for contribution-based and income-related Employment and Support Allowance.

Contact Centre
Telephone: 0800 169 0350
Textphone: 0800 023 4888
NGT text relay (if you cannot hear or speak on the phone): 18001 then 0800 169 0350
Welsh language telephone: 0800 012 1888
Monday to Friday: 8am to 6pm

Note: A different guide explains how to Claim Employment and Support Allowance in Northern Ireland.

Required Documents for Claiming ESA

Preparing this documentation and information will help you fill in the claim form for all three types of Employment and Support Allowance:

  • National Insurance number (NIno)
  • Fit note (also called ‘doctor’s note’ or ‘sick note’)
  • Address and phone number of your General Practitioner (GP)
  • Your contact telephone numbers (home and mobile)
  • The address and telephone number of your employer (and dates of employment or the last day that you worked)
  • The details of your bank account
  • Details of any other money you get (e.g. social security benefits or sick pay)
  • Mortgage (or landlord details) and Council Tax bill (if your application is for income-related ESA).
Comprehensive guide explaining the different types of Employment and Support Allowance, rates, and how to apply for ESA 2019.

Disagreeing with a Decision about ESA

You would need to ask for a mandatory reconsideration if you want to challenge the decision made about your claim for Employment and Support Allowance.

How to Report a Change of Circumstances

You must report any changes to your circumstances to continue getting the correct rates of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). As a result, the DWP may reduce the amount you get (or stop your claim altogether) if you fail to report a change (or delay making it).

Some of the most common change of circumstances to report, include:

  • Changing your name
  • Starting or stopping work, education, training or an apprenticeship
  • Moving home
  • People moving into or out of the place you live (e.g. a child, your partner)
  • Changes to the amount of benefits you or anyone else in your house receives
  • Reductions or increases in your pension, savings, investments (or property)
  • Changes to other income streams (e.g. grants, student loans, sick pay, payments from a charity)
  • Going to a different doctor
  • Changes to your disability or medical condition
  • Going into hospital or a care home (or sheltered accommodation)
  • Travelling overseas of the United Kingdom for any length of time

Note: Giving the wrong or incomplete information, or failing to report changes straight away, can result in a prosecution or having to pay a £50 civil penalty.

There is more than one way to report a change of circumstances, such as by:

  • Telephoning the ESA helpline
  • Writing a letter to the Jobcentre Plus office that is paying your ESA (you will find the address written on letters sent to you about your claim)

ESA and ‘New Style’ ESA Helpline
Telephone: 0800 169 0310
Textphone: 0800 169 0314
NGT text relay (if you cannot hear or speak on the phone): 18001 then 0800 169 0310
Welsh language: 0800 328 1744
Monday to Friday: 8am to 6pm

You will need to report changes to both services if you are getting Universal Credit as well as the ‘new style’ ESA. Contact the Employment and Support Allowance Centre instead if you are in Northern Ireland.

What if You Get Paid Too Much?

You would need to pay the money back if you get paid too much. In most cases, benefit overpayments occur when claimants do not report a change of circumstances straight away (or they give inaccurate information).

Moving from Incapacity Benefits Over to ESA

The process of transferring claimants from certain types of incapacity benefits to Employment and Support Allowance continues.

So, the Department for Work and Pensions will inform you which group you will be placed in (e.g. either the support group or the work-related activity group) depending on whether you are already on:

  • Incapacity Benefit
  • Income Support 2019 (paid out due to disability or illness)
  • Severe Disablement Allowance

As a result, a Work Capability Assessment will determine whether you meet the ESA eligibility criteria (or not). They will transfer your benefit by automatic process if you qualify. Hence, there will be no break in the payments that you receive.

In fact, your money would increase once you move from incapacity benefits over to Employment Support Allowance if your payments are less than the current ESA rates.

Furthermore, you would get a ‘top-up payment’ if your payments are more than the standard ESA amount. Thus, you would continue receiving the same amount of money.

So, the overall amount of benefit you get would only rise when the standard rates of ESA increase by an amount equal to that of the top-up payment.