Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is for people who find it hard to work because of a disability or health condition.
What is ESA?
ESA was introduced in October 2008. It replaced Incapacity Benefit for people making a new claim, and aims to improve the employment rates of disabled people. It is accessed through Jobcentre Plus[u1] and the support package includes financial help, employment advice and training.
The money you get depends on your personal circumstances, such as age, family situation and whether the Jobcentre thinks you're capable of getting a paid job. The minimum starting level for a single person under 25 is £56.25 per week. This amount goes up after 13 weeks; you can get additional premiums if you've got a severe disability.
There are two types of ESA:
1.Contribution-based ESA: This is for people who've worked before and paid National Insurance contributions. If you're under 20 years old and can show you've had 'limited capability for work' for at least six months, you can claim ESA under special 'Youth Rules'.
2.Income-related ESA: If you don't meet these conditions you may be able to get income-related ESA instead. This is for people on low incomes and with less than £6,000 in savings.
How do I apply for ESA?
Although there are forms to fill in and meetings to attend, the application process is not as complicated as it looks. You can apply for ESA by phone on 0800 0556 688 or textphone on 0800 0234 888. An advisor will take you through the application process, asking questions about your disability or health condition. You can also request the form in the post, or download it from DirectGov.
After you've made your claim, you'll start the 13-week Work Capability Assessment. You'll have to complete a questionnaire about your ability to complete everyday tasks. The time limit for returning the questionnaire is four weeks. Jobcentre Plus might ask your doctor (GP) to write a report, or recommend that you go for a face-to-face medical assessment. This is quite common and doesn't mean they're suspicious or going to reject your claim. You'll also have an interview to discuss your views about moving into work and the types of support that could help.
The results of the Work Capability Assessment decide whether you go into the 'Work-Related Activity Group' for people who can do some work, or the 'Support Group' for those with a severely limiting disability.
Assessments for ESA are becoming stricter - but don't panic
Jobcentre Plus publishes a detailed guide to the Work Capability Assessment. It's quite technical and mainly aimed at professionals, but you might find it useful to read.
Under recent changes to the benefits system, assessments for ESA are becoming stricter. But don't panic if your claim is rejected. You've got the right to appeal and about 40% of appeals are successful. Fill in form GLA24 at the back of the leaflet 'If you think our decision is wrong' - you should get a copy of this with your decision letter.
Can I study and claim ESA?
You can have 'limited capability for work' but still be able to study because:
- Studying tends to be flexible and you have more control over your timetable
- Colleges and universities will provide you with support on the course
- Academic tasks are less physical
- There is generally less pressure
However there are some things to be aware of:
If you get contribution-based ESA, you can study part-time or full-time. However if you are under 19 the 'Youth Rules' only allow you to study up to 21 hours per week.
Full-time students can only get income-related ESA if they receive disability living allowance (DLA).
If you study part-time it won't affect your claim for income-related ESA.
How do student loans affect income-based ESA?
If you're eligible for a higher education maintenance loan, the Jobcentre will consider some of it as income. The benefit rules allow you a small amount for books and equipment, and you can keep £10 per week towards your living costs. The summer holidays are not included when calculating your income from the loan.
Remember to tell your benefits advisor if your circumstances change - for example if you get a pay rise, new job or get married. If you don't you could face a £50 fine as well as having to pay back any extra benefit. See GOV.UK for more information.
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