Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

If you are blind or partially sighted, find out how Jobcentre Plus decides if you can receive Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

Here we detail how much you might get and what you will need to do to keep receiving it.

Who is ESA for?

ESA is a benefit for people who:

  • have limited capability for work because of sickness or disability
  • are not working (although voluntary work and some limited paid work is allowed - see our factsheet for more details)
  • are aged 16 or over, but under the age at which you can claim your state pension
  • are not entitled to certain other benefits (Statutory Sick Pay, Incapacity Benefit, Income Support, Severe Disablement Allowance or Jobseeker's Allowance).

ESA replaced Incapacity Benefit and Income Support (paid on the basis of incapacity for work) for new claimants on 27 October 2008. Jobcentre Plus will transfer existing Incapacity Benefit and Income Support claimants over to ESA by 2014.

A quick summary of ESA – a story of twos

ESA is a single benefit that you can break down into sets of twos.

ESA has two elements: contributory ESA for people who have paid sufficient National Insurance contributions and income-related ESA for those who are on a low income. You may qualify for one or both elements. The Government is starting to replace Income-related ESA with Universal Credit.

ESA has two phases: first, an assessment phase during which Jobcentre Plus assess your capability for work. Secondly, a main phase when you receive the full rate of ESA - depending on which group you are put into.

ESA has a medical test, called the Work Capability Assessment, that is broken into two parts: the first determines if you are entitled to ESA at all and looks at your ability to carry out everyday activities. If you are blind or partially sighted, the most relevant activities within the Work Capability Assessment are about your ability to get around out of doors independently and communicate with other people. The second part of the medical test determines which group you will be put into.

ESA has two groups: you will be placed into one of two groups - a support group or a work-related activity group - based on the results of the second test. People in the support group receive more ESA and do not have to attend interviews with a Jobcentre Plus adviser. People in the work-related activity group receive less ESA and do have to attend regular interviews with an adviser. If you are in the work-related group, the maximum amount of time that you can receive contributory ESA for is limited to 365 days. Your 13-week assessment phase counts towards the 365-day period. The time limit does not apply to you if you are in the support group.

Our factsheet goes into much more detail about the rates, elements, phases, assessment and groups for ESA:

How do I claim ESA?

Jobcentre Plus administer ESA on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). Call them on 0800 055 6688 to make a claim. They will take all the information they need over the phone and then send you a claim form to sign. You may also be asked to attend an interview at a local Jobcentre Plus office.

You will need to get a medical certificate (called a fit note) from your GP at the start of your claim. After 13 weeks Jobcentre Plus will do their own medical test and you will no longer need fit notes.

You can ask for you claim for ESA to be backdated for up to three months.

After you have been on ESA for around eight weeks, Jobcentre Plus will begin the process of assessing you under the Work Capability Assessment. They will send you a form called an ESA50 to fill in. This asks about your disabilities and about the sort of activities that you find difficult. You have four weeks to complete and return the ESA50.

When DWP Medical Services receive your ESA50 they will decide whether you need to attend a face-to-face medical examination. The examination will be carried out at by a Health Care Professional (HCP) who may be a doctor, a nurse or some other suitably qualified person, at a Medical Services examination centre.

It would be a good idea to take a copy of your sight impairment certification document (CVI or BD8) with you to this medical examination.

Revisions and appeals – help for blind and partially sighted people

If the DWP have turned down your claim for ESA, or you are unhappy with how much you have been awarded and believe you are entitled to receive more, you can appeal the DWP's decision. Please see our benefits appeals page for information on how to challenge an ESA claim decision. You can also call our Helpline on 0303 123 9999 to speak to one of our benefits advisors or email helpline@rnib.org.uk

Related links

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