Income related ESA has now been replaced by Universal Credit for all new claims. People who are already in receipt of income-related ESA are gradually being migrated to Universal Credit.  

However, there are still some circumstances in which you can make a claim for ESA, based on your national insurance contributions; this is called "new style ESA".

If you are in receipt of Universal Credit, then a claim for new style ESA is deducted pound for pound. However, there can still be advantages to claiming this benefit as well as Universal Credit. You can call our Helpline on 0303 123 9999 to speak to one of our benefits advisers or email [email protected] if you would like further information.

If you are Blind or Partially Sighted, find out how how you can receive Employment Support Allowance (ESA):

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
  • have paid sufficient national insurance contributions, usually in the last two to three years

A quick summary of ESA – a story of twos

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

Prior to the roll out of Universal Credit, ESA had 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. Claimants could qualify for one or both elements and many people are still in receipt of these. We call these 'legacy benefits' as they are gradually being replaced by Universal Credit.

It is no longer possible to make a new claim for income related ESA (except in very limited circumstances). Contributory ESA can still be claimed, but this is now known as new-style ESA.

ESA has two phases: first, an assessment phase during which your capability for work is assessed. 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. For more information about the Work Capability Assessment see our factsheet:

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. Being placed in the support group, means that you are determined as having limited capability for work related activity (LCWRA). Being placed in the work related activity group means you have limited capability for work (LCW) but may be able to take part in work related activity.

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:

Who is responsible for administering Employment and Support Allowance?

If you live in England, Scotland or Wales then ESA is managed by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

If you live in Northern Ireland, then ESA is managed by the Department for Communities (DfC).

How do I claim ESA?

If you live in England, Scotland or Wales, you can make a claim for new-style ESA using the online claim form on the gov.uk website.

If you are unable to use the online claim system, or you’re an appointee for someone, you can make a claim by telephone, using the Universal Credit helpline 0800 328 5644 (choose option 3) or Textphone 0800 328 1344 (choose option 3). Welsh language 0800 328 1744 (Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm).

If you are hard of hearing or unable to speak on the phone you can use Relay UK 18001 then 0800 328 5644

If you live in Northern Ireland, you can make a claim for new-style ESA using the online claim form on the nidirect website.

If you are unable to use the online claim system, you can make a claim by calling the ESA Centre 0800 085 6318 (Textphone 0800 328 3419) an adviser will talk through the application with you and fill in the form on your behalf.

You will need to get a medical certificate (called a fit note) from your GP at the start of your claim. Once a decision has been made in relation to part two (the assessment) you will no longer need fit notes.

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

After you have been on ESA for around eight weeks, the process will begin of assessing you under the Work Capability Assessment. You will be sent a form to complete called a ESA50. 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 your ESA50 is received a decision will be made by the Department as to whether you need to attend a medical examination. Most assessment examinations are now carried out by telephone, with some being carried out by video link but face to face examinations are available wherever appropriate. If there is enough evidence in the form of medical paperwork the assessment will be carried out using this instead. The majority of claimants are asked to partake in such an assessment so don't let this put you off. The examination will be carried out by a Health Care Professional (HCP) who may be a doctor, a nurse or some other suitably qualified person.

It would be a good idea to take a copy of your registration document with you to this medical examination. In England and Wales this is called a CVI or BD8, in Scotland a BP1, and an A655 in Northern Ireland.

Revisions and appeals – help for blind and partially sighted people

If the DWP/DfC 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 challenge the DWP/DfC'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 advisers or email [email protected]

In some cases, you can lodge an appeal straight away which means your ESA should remain in payment (without the support group addition) until the appeal is heard.