Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) provides financial help to people who have a limited capability for work because of illness or disability. It was designed to replace Income Support (IS), Incapacity Benefit (IB) and Severe Disablement Allowance (SDA). Those who are still receiving these benefits will be reassessed to see if they qualify for ESA.

All new applicants go through a 13-week assessment phase during which the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) assesses your health and your prospects of working or training for work.

ESA is broken up into two elements. These are contributory ESA and income-related ESA. You may receive either one of these, or perhaps both depending on your specific situation.

To be entitled to income-related ESA, you must pass a low income test in addition to the Work Capability and Medical assessments (as described below).

In order to be entitled to contributory ESA, you must also pass a contributory test as well as the Work Capability and Medical assessments (as described below).

Qualifying for Employment and Support Allowance

You must:

  • Have a limited capability for work (tested by the Work Capability Assessment as described below).
  • Be at least 16 years of age.
  • Be under state pension age (ESA stops when you reach this age).
  • Satisfy residence and presences tests.

How to apply for Employment and Support Allowance

The first step is to call your local Jobcentre Plus on 0800 055 6688. They will ask you questions about how your condition affects your ability to work. Following this, they will send you a letter summarising what you discussed over the phone. Check that this accurately sums up what you discussed.

The low-income test income related ESA

Income related ESA is a means tested benefit. Because of this, your needs (and those of your partner, if you have one) are compared with the money you have, such as your income and savings.

This type of ESA can be paid on its own (if you are not entitled to contributory ESA) or as a top-up to contributory ESA (if you are qualified for both). Income related ESA is not time limited.

You cannot get income-related ESA if you and your partner’s capital or savings are over £16,000.

The contributory test- contributory ESA

You will need to have paid enough national insurance contributions in your specific tax years to satisfy this test. If you pass this test, you will receive a flat-rate benefit for yourself. The contributory ESA time limit is that of one year, unless you have been placed in the support group.

Contributory ESA does not have additions for your partner, additional premiums or allowances for housing costs. In order to qualify for such help, you would need to satisfy the low-income test for income related ESA, which can be paid on top of contributory ESA.

Your contributory ESA will be reduced if you have an occupational or personal pension of more than £85 a week.

Permitted work

There are certain types of work you can do, and still be entitled to ESA. This is called ‘permitted work’ and should not affect your entitlements.

There are three types of permitted work:

  •  the lower limit: you are able to earn no more than £20 a week
  •  supported permitted work: this is done under the supervision of a medical professional or an organisation that provides work opportunities for disabled people. This is usually completed with the aim of returning to work, and your earnings must not exceed £115.50 a week.
  •  the higher limit: this is also designed to test your capability for work before returning to work. You are able to work for 16 hours a week and earn up to £115.50 per week. If you are in the support group of ESA, you are able to do this for an indefinite length of time. If you are in the work-related activity group, you can do this for up to 52 weeks.


Before undertaking any of the ‘permitted work’, it is always best to contact the DWP to inform them of a change in your circumstances.


icon_phone Created with Sketch. Contact information

MDUK helpline

Monday to Friday, 10am to 2pm
0800 652 6352