Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

Your ESA claim

After you’ve made your claim, you’ll be told if you need to have a ‘Work Capability Assessment’ and what group you’ll be put in.

Work Capability Assessment

A ‘Work Capability Assessment’ is used to find out if your illness or disability affects how much you can work.

You might not need one, for example if you’re in hospital or you have a terminal illness.

If you need a Work Capability Assessment you’ll get a letter telling you what to do. It takes place around 4 weeks after you’ve made your claim.

You must fill in the ‘Capability for work questionnaire’ and send it to the Health Assessment Advisory Service. The address is on the form. The questionnaire is different in Northern Ireland.

You’ll be told what happens next, for example if you need an appointment to understand your health condition better.

If you have an assessment booked, you do not need to go to it at the moment because of coronavirus (COVID-19). The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will contact you to let you know what you need to do instead.

If you’re claiming both Universal Credit and ‘new style’ ESA, you’ll only have one Work Capability Assessment.

You may be able to get a recording of the assessment.

Your benefit may be stopped if you do not fill in the questionnaire or go to the assessment.

After your claim is assessed

If you’re entitled to ESA you’ll be placed in one of 2 groups:

  • work-related activity group
  • support group

You must go to regular interviews with a work coach who can help with things like improving your skills or writing a CV to help you get back into work.

If you’re in the support group

You’re usually in this group if your illness or disability severely limits what you can do. You do not have to go to interviews. You can tell your work coach if you’d like to take part in work-related activities.

How long you’ll get ESA for

‘New style’ and contribution-based ESA last for 365 days if you’re in the work-related activity group.

There’s no time limit if you’re in the support group, or if you’re getting income-related ESA.

To keep getting ESA you must report any change in your circumstances and keep to the commitment you signed at your interview. You may also need to send fit notes regularly.

If you get a sanction

Your ESA can be reduced if you do not go to interviews or do work-related activity as agreed with your work coach in your ‘Claimant Commitment’. This reduction can continue for up to 4 weeks after you restart work-related activities.

You’ll get a letter to say you may be sanctioned. Tell your work coach if you have a good reason for not doing what was agreed in your ‘Claimant Commitment’.

You’ll get another letter if the decision is made to give you a sanction. Your benefit will only be affected once a decision has been made.

You should contact your local council immediately if you claim Housing Benefit or Council Tax Reduction. They’ll tell you what to do to continue getting support.

If you get a sanction you can:

You will not get a sanction if you’re in the support group.

Hardship payments

If you get income-related ESA, you may be able to get a hardship payment if your benefit has been reduced because of a sanction or penalty.

A hardship payment is a reduced amount of your ESA. You do not have to pay it back.

You can get a hardship payment if you cannot pay for rent, heating, food or other basic needs for you or your family. You must be 18 or over.

Speak to your Jobcentre Plus adviser or work coach to find out how to claim a hardship payment.