Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is a Government benefit for those who have a disability, illness or health condition that makes it too difficult or impossible to find employment. Introduced in 2008, it has replaced Income Support claimed on the grounds of illness or disability, and Incapacity Benefit. There are two types of ESA, one assessed on a claimant’s level of National Insurance contributions and the other assessed on the level of their income. ESA of either sort is only for those aged 18 or over. Those with children should make claims for Child Tax Credits.
The ESA was established as a means of reducing the number of people claiming sickness or disability-related benefits by around 1million people, by the year 2018. However, in that time, it has failed to reach its target objectives and is claimed by over 2million people each year.
The ESA has not been without its critics, most notable of who was Ian Duncan Smith, the Welfare Secretary of the Conservative/Liberal coalition that was in governmental power at the time. He eventually conceded that the scheme was “fundamentally flawed” and concluded that the continual reassessment of disabled people was “pointless”. In 2016, the Conservative government announced long-term plans to overhaul the ESA and replace it with Universal Credits.
How to apply for ESA
To qualify for ESA, you must reach certain criteria. Primarily, those with an illness, health condition or disability that makes it difficult or impossible to work could be eligible. While the benefit is broken into ‘contribution-based’ and ‘income-based’ categories, there are claimants who can qualify for both.
Contribution-based ESA is judged on a person’s ability to work and National Insurance contributions. You’re likely to be eligible for this sort of payment, dependent on a number of circumstances, including:
- An illness, disability or health condition that makes work difficult or impossible
- You are not in receipt of Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)
- You are too young to qualify for the State Pension
- You are a UK citizen
- You’ve paid at least 26 weeks Class 1 or Class 2 National Insurance contributions in one of the last complete tax years, over the last two years
- ESA cannot be granted to anyone receiving Income Support.
If you haven’t paid enough National Insurance contributions, yet cannot work through illness, disability or health conditions, you may still be eligible for income-based ESA. As with contribution-based ESA, there are several factors taken into account, when deciding whether a claimant can qualify. These include:
- You have savings or investments worth less than £16,000
- If you have a partner, they work less than 24 hours a week
- You’re too young to receive the State Pension
- You’re a UK citizen
- You don’t work currently or the work you do will stop once you are in receipt of ESA
- You have an illness, health condition or disability that makes work too difficult or impossible
As with contribution-based ESA, income-based ESA cannot be claimed while you are receiving Income Support. This also applies to Job Seekers’ Allowance and Pension Credits.
How much ESA is granted?
As each case is assessed on its own merits, there is no set payment for ESA. The assessment phase takes around 13 weeks and no payments are issued during this time. If you are found to be unfit for work, the Department of Work and Pensions will process your claim in one of two categories: ‘Support Group’ or ‘Work Related Activity Group’.
If you find yourself in the Support Group, you can receive up to £109.65p per week. Those entitled to income-based ESA could receive an additional payment of up to £16.40 per week. Those place in the Support Group are people assessed to be unfit for work and with no real prospects of being helped to improve their chances of working.
If you find yourself in the Work Related Activity Group, you can receive up to £73.10 per week. However, if you were in receipt of ESA before April 3rd, 2017, you could receive up to £102.15. Those in this group are assessed as being currently unfit for work, but with prospects of being helped to improve their chances of working in the future.
Challenging a Decision
To challenge an ESA decision, you must first contact the DWP and ask for a ‘mandatory reconsideration’. In the event that the decision is not overturned, you can still challenge it, through an independent tribunal. This cannot be done until you have written results of the mandatory reconsideration. If you would like to speak to a member of the ESA for some extra clarification, please call the contact number 0843 216 0039.
Where are they?
The ESA’s head offices are based in Swindon. Their helplines are open from Monday to Friday, between 8am and 6pm. If you feel the need to call the ESA, their contact number is 0843 216 0039.
When claiming ESA, you will have to give certain details, via the internet, to enable payments to be made. To create your ESA account, you will need to create a strong password which, to protect your data, ought to consist of random numbers and letters. However, it should also be something you can remember!