Employment and Support Allowance

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is a benefit for people under State Pension age who have an illness or disability that affects how much they can work.

What is Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)?

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is for people under State Pension age who have an illness or disability that affects how much they can work. There are different types of ESA, so it is a good idea to speak to a Macmillan welfare rights adviser to see if you can make a claim.

ESA can provide:

  • money to help with living costs if you cannot work
  • support to get back to work if you can.

You may be able to claim new-style ESA if you have paid enough National Insurance within the last 2 to 3 years. Most claims are now for new-style ESA.

If your income and savings are low, you could get Universal Credit at the same time or instead of new-style ESA.

How do I apply for ESA?

You can apply for ESA if you are:

  • employed
  • self-employed
  • unemployed
  • a student.

Generally, you cannot claim ESA if you are working. But you may be allowed to do a certain amount of work. This is called permitted work.

You also need to have paid enough National Insurance contributions, usually in the last 2 to 3 years (National Insurance credits also count).

When you apply for ESA, usually you must provide a medical certificate called a fit note. If you meet the initial medical requirements, you are paid an assessment rate for 13 weeks.

After this period, your assessment will tell you if you qualify for ESA. If you do, you will either have:

  • limited capability for work (LCW) – which is for people who can do some activities that may help them work in the future
  • limited capability for work-related activity (LCWRA) – which is for people with an illness or disability that makes working very difficult.

You can be moved into a different group, depending on your situation. For example, you may be put into the LCWRA group at first while you have your cancer treatment. But once it has finished, you may be moved to the LCW group to help you prepare for a return to work. This would depend on many things, including your treatment plan and prognosis. 

We have more information about these groups below. 'To find out how much money you may get with ESA, visit GOV.UK.

How will I be assessed?

You may need to have a work capability assessment when you apply. This is to find out how your illness or disability affects your ability to work. You will also need to be assessed if you are applying for Universal Credit and cannot work due to illness or treatment.

Your work capability assessment usually happens in the first 13 weeks of getting ESA. You will be sent a questionnaire called an ESA50. There is a different version of the ESA50 questionnaire in Northern Ireland.

The questionnaire asks about your health condition, your treatment and how it affects you. You can send in copies of medical or social care letters that you already have with your questionnaire. It is important that you complete and return the questionnaire by the date given to you.

If you are waiting for, having or recovering from cancer treatment, you do not usually need to complete the whole form. A healthcare professional, such as your clinical nurse specialist (CNS), must complete the last page of your ESA50. This is to confirm your treatment and how it affects your ability to work.

The Centre for Health and Disability Assessments does the assessments in England, Scotland and Wales. In Northern Ireland, it is the Medical Support Services. They will contact you to tell you if you need an assessment and where it will be.

You can find more information about assessments at chdauk.co.uk or nidirect.gov.uk

Some people may not have any assessments. For example, this could be if you are:

  • waiting for, having, or recovering from, chemotherapy or radiotherapy
  • terminally ill and may be reasonably expected to live for less than 6 months.

If you are having cancer treatment, you do not need to have an assessment and will receive limited capability for work-related activity (LCWRA) after 13 weeks.

If you are terminally ill, you can claim ESA under special rules. This means your claim should be fast-tracked. You are placed straight into LCWRA from the start of your claim. This means you will get additional money sooner. We have more information about special rules.

See also

Limited capability for work-related activity (LCWRA) group

You will be placed in the LCWRA group if your illness or disability makes it very difficult for you to work. This includes if you are waiting for, having or recovering from certain cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

This means you will get an extra weekly payment, in addition to the assessment rate. You will not have work-focused interviews with an adviser or need to do any work-related activities. But you can ask to talk to a personal adviser.

Limited capability for work (LCW) group

The assessment may suggest there is some work-related activity you could still do. In this case, you will be placed in the LCW group. You need to have regular work-focused interviews with an adviser. They can help with things like job goals and improving your skills.

After an interview, you may have to do a work-related activity. This could mean writing a CV, going on a training course or doing a work placement. But you do not need to apply for a job.

People in the limited capability for work group get the assessment rate only.

If you claimed ESA before 3 April 2017, you may get an extra amount if you are put in this group.

Time limit for getting ESA

There is no time limit on how long you can get ESA for if you are in the LCWRA group.

You can only get new-style (or contribution-based) ESA in the LCW group for 1 year. After 1 year, the benefit will stop unless you ask to be put in the LCWRA group and get accepted.

If you are worried that this time limit might affect you, speak to a welfare rights adviser as soon as possible.

What is permitted work?

You may be allowed to do a certain amount of work while claiming ESA. This is called permitted work. 

You can also do supported permitted work. This must be one of the following:

  • Work as part of a hospital treatment programme. The work is done under medical supervision while you are in hospital.
  • Work that is supervised by someone whose job is to help arrange work for disabled people.

You can also do unpaid voluntary work, or unpaid work experience. This must be approved by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in England, Scotland and Wales, or the Department for Communities (DfC) in Northern Ireland.

If you are going to start doing permitted, supported permitted or voluntary work, you must tell the service that provides your benefit. It is a good idea to speak to a welfare rights adviser about permitted work before you start. They can talk to you about how it affects your benefits.

How do I claim ESA?

How you apply for new-style Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) depends on where you live.

In England, Scotland or Wales

If you live in England, Scotland or Wales, you must first fill in an NSESAF1 claim form. You can get the form in two ways:

  • Download and print the form from GOV.UK
  • Call the Universal Credit helpline on 0800 328 5644 or textphone 0800 328 1344 to get the form by post or email. They can also send the form in an accessible format.

When you have completed the form, call the Universal Credit helpline to make a ‘new claim appointment’ at your local Jobcentre Plus. When you go to this appointment, you should take:

  • your completed NSESAF1 claim form
  • a medical certificate called a fit note (sometimes called a sick note or doctor’s note)
  • proof of your identity and address
  • proof of any pensions or health insurance payments you get.

In Northern Ireland

If you live in Northern Ireland, contact your Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) support centre to make a claim. You can call 0800 085 6318 or use textphone 0800 328 3419. Or you can fill in and print out an ESA1 claim form at nidirect.gov.uk.

How do I challenge a decision?

If you are unhappy with a decision about ESA, you may be able to ask for it to be looked at again. This is called a mandatory reconsideration. You must ask for a mandatory reconsideration within 1 month of the decision date.

If you disagree with the mandatory reconsideration result, you can appeal within 1 month. An independent tribunal will hear your case. It is a good idea to speak to a welfare rights adviser first. You can call our welfare rights advisers on 0808 808 00 00.

About our information


  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by Macmillan professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Sean Conroy, Macmillan Welfare Rights and Energy Advice Team Service Manager.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.