Employment Support Allowance (ESA)

Employment Support Allowance (ESA) is paid to people whose ability to work is limited by disability or ill health. To qualify for ESA you have to be assessed under a work capability assessment. To make a claim you must be aged 16 or over and be under state pension age. You must also meet the residence and presence conditions.

ESA has two elements: contributory ESA and income-related ESA. You may receive either of these elements or both, depending on your circumstances.

Contributory ESA

Contributory ESA is linked to your national insurance contribution record. To be entitled, you must have paid national insurance contributions, over a certain number of years. Some awards are limited to twelve months. The rules around ESA can be complex, please get advice from Shine before making any decisions.

Income-related ESA

Income-related ESA, the means tested element of ESA, provides for your basic living expenses (and those of your partner if you have one). It can be paid on its own or as a top up to contributory ESA. Income-related ESA may help with mortgage interest payments, and some other housing costs, in the form of a repayable loan. You cannot get income-related ESA if you (and your partner) have capital and savings over £16,000.

Income Related ESA is being replaced by Universal Credit. You cannot make a new claim for it apart from in very specific circumstances. There are implications for existing claimants as well,  so please speak to Shine to get advice before proceeding,  if your circumstances are changing or if you want to try to make a new claim.

The benefit cap

ESA is included in the list of benefits to which the weekly benefit cap applies. This cap, which limits the total weekly benefit that can be claimed, will not apply if you have been placed in the ESA support group. The benefit cap under universal credit does not apply if you, or a child you are claiming for receives DLA or PIP.

Everyone in receipt of incapacity benefit, severe disablement allowance and income support paid on the grounds of incapacity will, at some point, be asked to take part in the work capability assessment. If you are found to have a limited capability for work in this reassessment, you will be moved onto ESA. If you are found not to have a limited capability for work, and are therefore not entitled to ESA, you will receive a telephone call asking you if you want to claim jobseeker’s allowance.

Students and young adults

Please note that if you are aged 16-19 and your parents are claiming child benefit and tax credits for you, take advice before claiming ESA, as your overall family income may decrease.

Disabled Students can only claim ESA or Universal Credit if their entitlement begins before they start their course.

Click here, for more information.


Benefits Update: The Work Capability Assessment criteria has changed for some Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Universal Credit (UC) claimants.

If you are claiming ESA, and are in the Support Group, or Universal Credit and have limited capability for work and/or work-related activity, you may no longer need to be reassessed if your Work Capability Assessment determines that you: “Have a severe, lifelong disability, illness or health condition and are unlikely to ever be able to move into work.” The new criteria only apply to assessments carried out after 29th September 2017.

The assessment will have to demonstrate that:
  1. The level of function will always meet Limited Capability for Work Related Activity criteria;
  2. The condition will always be present.
  3. No realistic prospect of recovery of function.
  4. Unambiguous condition (i.e. following all relevant clinical investigations a recognised medical diagnosis has been made)
This change does not affect:
  • ESA claimants placed in the work-related activity group
  • UC claimants who are found to have limited capability for work"
  • Personal Independence Payment claimants.

Claimants already in the Support Group or with claimants with limited capability for work and work-related activity will still have to attend their next reassessment whenever that might be.


Every effort has been made to ensure that this information is up to date, however changes in the law over time may affect the accuracy of some content. The information provided does not constitute legal or professional advice. You should always check details regarding your welfare rights with a local advice centre or the Department for Works and Pensions.

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