employment support allowance

What is Employment and Support Allowance?

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is a benefit that is available to those whose disability or health condition such as multiple sclerosis (MS) which limits their capability to work. There are three types of ESA with only one of these open to new claimants, these are

  • Income-related ESA – A means-tested benefit that is no longer open to new claims. All recipients of this type of ESA will be migrated to Universal Credit over time.
  • Contributory ESA – Is not means tested but to qualify claimants must have made a minimum amount of National Insurance (NI) contributions over a specific period, usually the previous two to three years. New claims are no longer available.
  • New style ESA – Is the only version of ESA open to new claims. New style is similar to Contributory ESA as it is not means tested yet sufficient NI contributions need to be made, over the previous two to three years, as part of the eligibility requirements.


To qualify for ESA, you must satisfy set eligibility criteria. Your capability to work must be limited, however, additional conditions apply such as having paid enough NI contributions over the previous two to three years and not currently receiving Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). You can usually apply for ESA if your SSP is due to end shortly. Find out more about ESA eligibility here.

Making a new claim

‘New style’ ESA claims are made initially via an online process. Residents of the UK, excluding Northern Ireland, can initiate their claim on the UK Government’s website whilst those residing in Northern Ireland should start their claim on the NI Direct website. Part of the claims process may include a Work Capability Assessment, which is designed to gauge to what extent your illness or disability affects your capability to work.

How much money will you receive if eligible for the new style ESA?

Given that it can take several weeks for your claim to be assessed in full you should receive payments based on an ‘assessment rate’ until a decision is made.

Once the assessment has been completed, how much you will receive if you qualify for ESA depends upon which ‘group’ you have been assigned to. These are

  • Work related activity group – Whilst you are deemed unable to work at the present time you will receive help and support from a ‘Work Coach’, or a ‘Disability Employment Adviser’ to assist your route back into the working environment. ESA is payable for an initial maximum term of 12 months.
  • Support group – You are deemed unable to work or engage in work related activities and you will receive a higher rate of ESA in comparison with those assigned to the work-related activity group. You will not be required to attend regular support sessions with a ‘work coach’. ESA is payable so long as you continue to meet the qualifying criteria.

You can find the current rates for all ESA payments by clicking here.

More Information

For people living in the UK, excluding Northern Ireland, you can find out more about ESA via the UK government’s website www.gov.uk/employment-support-allowance.

For people residing in Northern Ireland, NI Direct provide its online information hub www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/employment-and-support-allowance.