Press release

Publication of DWP research report 707: Employment and Support Allowance: findings from a face-to-face survey of customers

Survey focusing on the characteristics, views and experiences of customers who have made a claim for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government


The Department for Work and Pensions today publishes a report of a survey focusing on the characteristics, views and experiences of a sample of customers who have made a claim for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

The main findings were as follows:

  • Awareness of ESA at the start of claim, and during assessment, was low: 83 per cent of customers were unaware of ESA before they claimed and were told about it by someone else. 62 per cent of respondents awaiting a face-to-face Work Capability Assessment, and 95 per cent of those awaiting a Work-Focused Health-Related Assessment (this is now suspended), said they did not know what to expect at them.
  • Satisfaction with the initial ESA claim process was relatively high: Most (70 per cent) claims were made by phone, 75 per cent of people found answering the questions asked straightforward, and 80 per cent felt the person they spoke to understood their situation well.
  • Views on the ESA50 form footnote 1 were mixed: 40 per cent of respondents found it easy to complete, but 40 per cent found it difficult. Half said they had help to complete it. Customers with mental health conditions were more likely to have difficulty (58 per cent had difficulty, compared to 44 per cent of those with physical health conditions).
  • Views of the face-to-face Work Capability Assessment (WCA) seemed heavily influenced by claim outcome: 71 per cent of Work-Related Activity and Support Group customers thought the doctor/nurse conducting the WCA understood their condition well, compared to 29 per cent of those found Fit for Work.
  • Those placed in the ESA Work-Related Activity Group had a wide range of views on their prospects of future employment: A tenth were looking for work and a fifth said they would need help, training or rehabilitation before they could consider working. At the other end of the spectrum, a fifth said they were permanently unable to work because of their health condition.
  • A health improvement appeared to be a key driver of claims which are withdrawn by the customer, or closed by Jobcentre Plus, before they are fully assessed:41 per cent of this group were back at work by the time of the survey and a further 30 per cent were looking for work.
  • **Being found Fit for Work appeared to have little bearing on individuals’ assessment of their prospects of working: **46 per cent of this group identified their health condition as their main barrier to work, while 22 per cent said they were permanently unable to work due to their health.

Notes for Editors:

  1. “Employment and Support Allowance: findings from a face-to-face survey of customers”, by Helen Barnes, Paul Sissons and Helen Stevens, all from the Institute of Employment Studies, is available on the DWP website:
  2. 3,650 people who made a claim for ESA between April and June 2009 were interviewed between December 2009 and February 2010, to allow enough time for them to have had a final decision on their claim b the time of the survey.
  3. A follow-up survey was conducted with this group of people between July and September 2010, to examine people’s ongoing experiences of ESA, or if they were no longer receiving ESA at this time, their subsequent activities. Findings from this follow-up survey will be published in the DWP research report series in early 2011.


  1. The ESA50 form is a questionnaire customers fill in after their initial claim, giving details of how their condition affects their ability to carry out day-to-day activities.
Published 12 November 2010