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Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

Photo: You can get Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) if you find it harder to work due to ill health or disability

What is Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)?

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is a benefit for people who are 16 or over and find it harder to work because of ill health or disability.

There are different types of ESA – contribution-based and income-related. Most people under 25 will only be able to claim income-related ESA because they won’t have paid enough National Insurance contributions to qualify for contribution-based ESA (also known as new style ESA).

The amount of income-related ESA received will be affected by the claimant's income and savings.

Who can claim ESA?

To claim ESA a person must:

  • be aged 16 or over
  • not be in full-time work (16 hours or more per week) but there are exceptions, such as voluntary or permitted work
  • have limited capability for work – this means that because of their ill health or disability it is unreasonable to require them to work
  • be in receipt of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) or Personal Independence Payment (PIP) if they’re in full-time, non-advanced education (e.g. A levels) or approved training. The rules about full-time, non-advanced education are complicated so get advice if you’re unsure.

How to claim ESA

Your child needs to make the ESA claim themselves, unless they have someone who acts as an appointee for them. However, if your child needs help with claiming you can speak to the DWP on their behalf as long as your child is present and gives their permission.

There are three ways to start an ESA claim:

  1. contact the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)
  2. download and print the ESA1 form
  3. call into a Jobcentre Plus and ask for an ESA claim pack – some Jobcentres let people make face-to-face claims.

After the first seven days a medical certificate from a GP (known as a fit note) will need to be sent to the office dealing with the ESA claim. Your child will need to keep sending in these fit notes until a further assessment, called a Work Capability Assessment (WCA), takes place (usually around 13 weeks after the initial claim).

A questionnaire (called an ESA50) will be sent out; this must be returned by the deadline on the form. If more time is needed then your child can contact the DWP and ask for an extension.

The form asks questions about your child's health and disability to understand how they're affected. The questions are based on descriptors and points are given for tasks your child has difficulty with.

Its important your child provides as much information as possible and remembers that its not only what they cant do, but what they have difficulty doing.

If your child can't do something safely or reliably then the DWP should consider that they can't do it. 

Your child can provide further evidence but they must make sure its relevant. 

Many people will be asked to attend a face-to-face medical assessment to gather more evidence.

This process of claiming ESA is similar to Personal Independence Payment (PIP), so you may find some of the information in that section helpful.

How much ESA is paid, and continuing entitlement to ESA, is decided by whether your child passes the WCA. After the assessment they'll be sent a decision, if they have scored enough points they will be able to stay on ESA until their next assessment. 

Some people are put in the support group which means they won’t have to take part in work-related activity and their money will increase after 13 weeks. If your child isn't in the support group they may have to attend Jobcentre Plus and undertake some work-related activity, but staff should take your child's disability into consideration. For more information go to www.gov.uk/employment-support-allowance

An ESA claim can be backdated three months or from your child’s 16th birthday (whichever period is shorter) as long as there’s supporting medical evidence.

ESA may affect entitlement to Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit so make sure you get advice before applying.

Universal Credit

Universal Credit is being introduced across the UK and will replace six means-tested benefits, for people in and out of work, including income-related ESA. If your child lives in a Universal Credit area they may have to apply for Universal Credit instead.

We have information on our website about Universal Credit for deaf young people here.

Universal credit works differently to other benefits, so it’s important to find out more:

If your child lives in a Universal Credit area and wants to apply because they’re having difficulty working due to their disability, then they need to  tell Jobcentre Plus or the DWP. Your child should record this request in their work journal and inform their work coach. They’ll need to ask for a UC50 questionnaire to be sent to them. This is similar to the ESA50 and the same approach will be taken.