Employment and Support Allowance

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is a benefit for people who are too unwell to work. This section explains if you can claim ESA, how you will be assessed and how you can try to change a benefit decision.


  • You may be able to claim ESA or universal credit if you can’t work because of your illness or disability.
  • You can claim ESA under 2 different benefit systems: legacy benefits system and universal credit system. Most new claims will be under the universal credit system.
  • There are 3 types of ESA: income related, contribution-based and New Style ESA. New style ESA is a contribution-based benefit.
  • You will be able to make a new claim for income-related ESA or contribution-based ESA if you are entitled to the severe disability premium (SDP).
  • If you are not entitled to the SDP, you will need to make a claim for New Style ESA or universal credit instead. New Style ESA is part of the universal credit system.
  • If you already claim income related ESA, you will be transferred to universal credit over the next few years. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will tell you when this will happen.
  • To start an ESA claim, you need a ‘fit note’ from your GP that says you are unwell.
  • You will have a work capability assessment (WCA) to work out if you can claim ESA.
  • You are likely to have to go for a health assessment as part of your WCA.
  • If you are awarded ESA, the DWP will put you in the ‘workrelated activity group’ or the ‘support group’. This depends on how difficult it is for you to work.
  • In the work-related activity group (WRAG), you have to go to meetings with your job coach to talk about what you need Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) to do to claim your benefit. Such as taking part in the Work Programme. You can also talk about the support you need to help you get back to work.
  • In the support group, you don’t have to take part in interviews or take part in the Work Programme. But you can if you want to.
  • In the support group you get more money than you get in the WRAG.
  • You will have to claim universal credit or New Style Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) instead of ESA if you are found fit for work after your WCA,
  • If you disagree with a decision the DWP have made about your ESA claim, you can ask the DWP to look at it for a second time. This is called a Mandatory reconsideration.
  • You can appeal to an independent tribunal if you don’t agree with the outcome of your mandatory reconsideration. It is free to do.
  • Lots of people who appeal to an independent tribunal are successful.

We know that money and mental health problems often go hand in hand. That’s why Rethink Mental Illness, as part of Mental Health UK, have set up a new website. It will help you understand, manage and improve your mental and financial health. You can find a wide range of information to help you with your benefits.


Visit the Mental Health & Money Advice site now 

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