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Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

Income-related ESA has now been replaced by Universal Credit for all new claims.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.

Image: Man wearing glasses looking at a computer screen, with job vacancies listed on the screen.

There are still 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 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 and 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 or been credited with sufficient national insurance contributions, usually in the last two to three years.

A quick summary of ESA

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. Claimants of contributory ESA (legacy) can still have an income-related ESA element added to their claim. Claimants of new-style ESA (newer claimants) can’t have an income-related ESA element added to their claim.

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 whether you meet the threshold for entitlement and 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 to read basic forms of correspondence.

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:

Work Capability Assessment factsheet (Word)

ESA has two groups

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 or new-style 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.

Please note that there are major changes being planned for the Work Capability Assessment in 2025. There is also a plan to gradually phase out the Work Capability Assessment between 2026 and 2029. We will report on these changes in due course.

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

Employment Support Allowance factsheet (Word)

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 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, by calling 0800 055 6688 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 18001then 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.

Mandatory reconsiderations and appeals

If the DWP/DfC have turned down your claim for ESA, or you are unhappy with the group you have been placed in, 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.