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Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

What is Employment and Support Allowance?

Employment and Support Allowance is for people who are unable to work due to illness or disability and who are under Pension Age.

In October 2008, Employment and Support Allowance replaced Incapacity Benefit and Income Support paid on incapacity grounds for new customers.  It is made up of two parts, non-means tested contribution based ESA for those who have paid sufficient national insurance contributions and means-tested income and related ESA for those who have a low or no income.  Universal Credit is a new benefit payment that is gradually replacing working age means-tested benefits, including income related ESA.

Newcastle Welfare Rights have a useful guide on Universal Credit.


Am I eligible for Employment and Support Allowance?

If you have an illness or disability that severely affects your ability to work, you may receive Employment and Support Allowance. However you can volunteer to return to work at any point if you want to.

Employment and Support Allowance involves a medical assessment called the Work Capability Assessment. This assesses what you are able and not able to do, and identifies the support you might need.

Most people claiming Employment and Support Allowance will be expected to take steps to prepare for work, including attending work focused interviews with their Jobcentre work coach. Those with a higher level of ill health will not be expected to do this.

How Employment and Support Allowance works

Employment and Support Allowance consists of two phases:

  • Assessment Phase: This is the first 13 weeks of your claim while you wait for a decision to be made on your capability for work. Employment and Support Allowance is paid at a basic rate.
  • Main Phase: This starts from week 14 of your claim if the Work Capability Assessment shows that your illness or disability does limit your ability to work. Additional money (called a component) is paid on top of the basic rate of Employment and Support Allowance.

For further information, including how to apply and the current rates, visit

Benefit cap

If you are of working age and get benefits like Income Support, income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), Housing Benefit, Child Tax Credit or Universal Credit, the government may limit (cap) the amount of weekly benefit for you and your family.  See Welfare Benefits article.

How do I apply for Employment and Support Allowance?

Newcastle Welfare Rights Service have produced a helpful factsheet which explains fully how to apply for Employment and Support Allowance.

Where can I get benefits advice?

You can get benefits advice from a local independent service. They can help guide you through the application process and explain how some benefits may impact upon another:

Other useful information

  • Money Advice Service provides online information on the full range of benefits that you may be entitled to.  This also includes where to find more help and advice.
  • Simple Payment Service was introduced as cheques are no longer used to pay state benefits and Pension credit. Information Now has more details on the service available to those unable to use bank accounts.

Last updated: May 22, 2019

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