Guidance

New Style Employment and Support Allowance: detailed guide

More detailed information about New Style Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for stakeholders and claimants.

Overview

If you are ill or have a health condition or disability that limits your ability to work you may be able to get New Style Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

New Style ESA is a fortnightly payment that can be claimed on its own or at the same time as Universal Credit (UC).

New Style ESA is a contributory benefit. Normally, this means you may be able to get it if you’ve paid or been credited with enough National Insurance contributions in the 2 full tax years before the year you’re claiming in.

Eligibility

To get New Style ESA you’ll need to have been an employee or self-employed and paid (or been credited with) National Insurance contributions, usually in the last 2 to 3 years.

You will also need to have a fit note (sometimes called ‘sick note’ or ‘doctor’s note’) but you can start making your claim before you have one. If you have only just become ill, you can self-certify for the first 7 days.

You can get New Style ESA on its own or at the same time as Universal Credit. If you apply for and are awarded both benefits, the New Style ESA you are paid will reduce your Universal Credit payment by the same amount.

You will not get any New Style ESA if you’re getting Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) from an employer - but you can apply up to 3 months before your SSP ends. If you get New Style ESA, it will be paid as soon as your SSP ends.

If you’ve been affected by coronavirus (COVID-19)

You can apply for ‘new style’ ESA if you’re unable to claim Statutory Sick Pay and one of the following applies to you or your child:

  • you might have coronavirus or you’re recovering from it
  • you are self-isolating because you came into contact with someone who might have coronavirus
  • you’ve been advised by your doctor or healthcare professional to self-isolate before going into hospital for surgery
  • you’ve been advised to ‘shield’ (take extra precautions to reduce contact with others) because you’re at very high risk of severe illness from coronavirus

Shielding in England and Wales has stopped. You can still apply for ESA if you were shielding in England or shielding in Wales before 1 April 2021, or if you’re shielding in Scotland.

Proof of your eligibility if you’re claiming because of coronavirus

If you’re claiming ESA because of coronavirus, you’ll need to give evidence to support your claim. Once you’ve applied, you’ll be contacted by phone and told when to give the evidence and where to send it.

Proof if you’re self-isolating because of coronavirus

If you or your child are self-isolating and you cannot work because of coronavirus, you can get an ‘isolation note’ online from NHS 111 if you’ve been off work for 7 or more days. You do not have to go to your doctor or a hospital.

If you’ve been notified by the NHS or public health authorities that you’ve come into contact with someone with coronavirus, your notification is proof.

If you’ve been advised by your doctor or healthcare professional to self-isolate before going into hospital for surgery, your letter confirming the date of your procedure is proof.

Proof if you’re shielding because of coronavirus

You should get a letter from your doctor or health authority if both the following apply:

Contact your doctor if you do not have a letter but think you should have one.

The letter will include the period you or your child should shield for. It is proof of your eligibility for ESA for days away from work in that period.

You may get more than one letter covering more than one shielding period.

If you work, but do not live, in an area with local restrictions that include advice to shield, you can apply for a ‘shielding note’ if all of the following are true:

Your shielding note will be valid for 3 weeks from the date you apply. If the note expires and you still need to shield, you’ll need to apply for another note.

Your shielding note will no longer be valid if local restrictions are lifted in the area you work in.

How to claim

Apply online

You can apply for New Style ESA online.

You’ll need:

  • your National Insurance number
  • your bank or building society account number and sort code (you can use a friend or family member’s account if you do not have one)
  • your doctor’s name, address and telephone number
  • details of your income if you’re working
  • the date your Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) ends if you’re claiming it

You must apply by phone if you’re an appointee applying on behalf of someone else.

You cannot get New Style ESA if you’re getting Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) from an employer. You can apply for New Style ESA up to 3 months before your SSP ends.

Apply now

If you cannot apply online

Call the Universal Credit helpline if:

  • you cannot apply online
  • you’re an appointee applying on behalf of someone else

After you apply

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will make an appointment to talk to you, either over the phone or face-to-face.

The New Style ESA Process: what to expect

1. Start your claim

Start your claim by applying online or calling the Universal Credit helpline.

2. Notification and first payment

You’ll get a letter from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) telling you if you’ll get New Style ESA and how much.

Further information on how much New Style ESA to expect

3. Provide updates about your health and circumstances

To keep getting New Style ESA you must send fit notes regularly and report any change in your circumstances.

Find out how to send DWP a fit note

Further information on reporting a change in your circumstances

4. Complete and return the ESA50 form

You will be sent form ESA50 in the post, usually within 4 weeks of your first payment. The ESA50 form is a capability for work questionnaire and is your chance to tell DWP how your health condition, disability or illness affects your ability to work.

You must send the form back within 28 days of the date you receive it from DWP.

If you’re also claiming Universal Credit the form will be called UC50, you’ll only have one form to complete.

5. Your Work Capability Assessment

After you return your ESA50 form you may be asked to go to an assessment, called a ‘Work Capability Assessment’. You will be contacted to arrange a date and time for the assessment.

The Work Capability Assessment is used to find out how much your health condition, disability or illness affects your ability to work. It assesses what you can do, as well as what you can’t do.

You’ll be asked questions about how your condition affects you in your day to day life. It gives you the opportunity to explain if, and how, your health condition or disability may vary over time.

Assessments are currently taking place over the phone because of coronavirus (COVID-19).

If you cannot use the phone, you’ll stay on the ‘assessment rate’ until you can be assessed face-to-face or until your New Style ESA ends.

More information on Work Capability Assessments.

If you’re claiming both New Style ESA and Universal Credit you’ll only have to attend one Work Capability Assessment.

6. Decision letter

You’ll get a letter with a decision on whether you have limited capability for work or limited capability for work and work-related activity, and if you will continue to receive New Style ESA. It will also tell you if you’ll need to be assessed again at some point in the future.

If you do need to be assessed again in the future, you’ll be sent another ESA50 form at the appropriate time. This normally happens within 3 years.

If you disagree with the decision you can ask for the decision to be looked at again - this is called a mandatory reconsideration.

If you’re claiming both New Style ESA and Universal Credit you’ll get 2 decision letters. If you fail to return form UC50 or fail to attend the Work Capability Assessment you won’t be entitled to both New Style ESA and Universal Credit.

After you claim is assessed

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

  • limited capability for work – you can’t work now, but you can prepare to work in the future, for example by writing a CV
  • limited capability for work and work related activity – you can’t work now and you’re not expected to prepare for work in the future

DWP will contact you to let you know what happens next.

How much New Style ESA to expect

Assessment phase

The first 13 weeks of your claim is called the ‘assessment phase’ and you are paid the basic allowance.

How much you’ll get depends on your age:

  • aged 18 to 24 years – up to £59.20 (per week)
  • aged 25 years and over – up to £74.70 (per week)

Main phase

If you have been found to have limited capability for work, you will move onto the ‘main phase’ for New Style ESA and you will get the basic allowance, plus a ‘support component’ if you are put in the support group.

  • basic allowance (standard rate) – up to £74.70 (per week)
  • support component – £39.40 (per week)

Payment

New Style ESA is paid at the end of every 2 weeks into your bank, building society or credit union account.

Pension income

If you get an occupational or personal pension that pays more than £85 a week, your New Style ESA payment will be reduced by half of the amount over the £85 limit.

Reporting a change of circumstances

You need to report changes to your circumstances so you keep getting the right amount of New Style ESA (and Universal Credit if you are claiming both).

Your claim might be stopped or reduced if you do not report a change straight away.

A change of circumstance can include:

  • any changes to your health condition or disability
  • going into hospital or a care home or sheltered accommodation
  • starting or stopping work, education, training or an apprenticeship
  • moving house
  • changing your name
  • changes to your pension
  • changing your doctor
  • going abroad for any length of time

Call the New Style ESA helpline if you’re not sure whether you need to report a change.

How to report changes of circumstances

You can report a change of circumstances by:

  • calling the New Style ESA helpline
  • writing to the Jobcentre Plus office that pays your New Style ESA – the address is on the letters you get about your New Style ESA

New Style ESA helpline

Telephone: 0800 169 0310
Textphone: 0800 169 0314
Relay UK – if you cannot hear or speak on the phone: 18001 then 0800 169 0310
Welsh language: 0800 328 1744
Monday to Friday, 8am to 5pm

Find out about call charges

If you’re claiming Universal Credit as well as New Style ESA, you must report changes to both services.

Universal Credit helpline

Telephone: 0800 328 5644
Textphone: 0800 328 1344
Relay UK – if you cannot hear or speak on the phone: 18001 then 0800 328 5644
Welsh language: 0800 328 1744
Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm

Find out about call charges

British Sign Language (BSL) video relay service

To use this, you’ll need to:

  • check you can use the service

check you can use the service

The video relay service is available Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm.

If you’re in Northern Ireland contact the NI Direct Employment and Support Allowance Centre.

Published 17 June 2019
Last updated 12 April 2021 + show all updates
  1. Updated with the latest rates effective from 12 April 2021.

  2. Shielding in England and Wales has stopped. You can still apply for ESA if you were shielding in England or shielding in Wales before 1 April 2021, or if you’re shielding in Scotland.

  3. Updated the opening hours of the New Style ESA helpline to 8am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

  4. Replaced guidance that you do not need to go to an appointment with a work coach at the moment with new guidance that DWP will make an appointment to talk to you, either over the phone or face-to-face.

  5. Added guidance on evidence you'll need to provide if you're claiming New Style Employment and Support Allowance because of coronavirus (COVID-19).

  6. Updated guidance to explain that Work Capability Assessments are currently taking place over the phone because of coronavirus (COVID-19).

  7. Universal Credit claimants should now apply for New Style Employment and Support Allowance online or by phone instead of through their online account.

  8. Updated guidance with link to new service to apply for New Style Employment and Support Allowance online and for new eligibility conditions introduced because of coronavirus (COVID-19).

  9. Updated with new rates effective from 6 April 2020.

  10. First published.