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Make ESA fit for work

If you become sick or disabled and lose your job you want to know that you will be supported. Poorly designed rules make it difficult to determine who is fit for work and who isn’t. Citizens Advice helps more people with Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) than any other issue – so we're calling on the Government to make ESA fit for work.

The Government is now deciding which company will run the tests that determine people's ability to work in the future. Without significant improvements we risk facing another five years of failure. Change is needed now to make sure the tests are fair, consistent and right first time.


We have now handed in our petition calling on the Department for Work and Pensions not to withdraw benefits from Employment and Support Allowance claimants while they wait for a second opinion on their claim. Find out how this policy wastes almost £30million a year and why our research [Word 58 kb] shows it’s not getting any better on our blog.

Colin's story

Colin following his ESA appeal. Credit: Paul Lewis

Colin worked in the steel industry for over 25 years until a car accident and a nasty fall down the stairs forced him to give up work. He claimed incapacity benefit for 15 years until he was transferred to ESA. Following a medical assessment he was told he was no longer eligible for ESA. At this point Colin came to his local Citizens Advice Bureau for help.

Our advisers helped Colin ask the DWP for a second opinion on his case. Under the current rules, Colin could not be paid ESA during this time and he knew he would struggle to make ends meet. The Job Centre Plus recommended he applied for Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) and he reluctantly did so even though he knew his disability meant he would be unable to work.

While he waited for his JSA application to be processed he relied on food parcels from the Red Cross to get by. Finally, a month later, Colin received a letter saying that his decision had been reconsidered and he was eligible for ESA.

We want to make ESA fit for work so Colin, and others like him, can get the support they are entitled to.

Read about the outpouring of support we have had for our Fit for work campaign in our blog by Rachael Holmes, Head of Policy Research – Families, Welfare and Work. In the blog you can read about some of the worrying stories people have shared with us on their experience of the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) benefit.

We are calling on the Government to make ESA fit for work

  • The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) should listen to evidence from the health and social care professionals who know you best.
  • The medical evidence required to make your case should be provided free of charge.
  • A tougher new contract so the new company providing work capability assessments will be held accountable for poor reports and bad customer service.
  • The DWP should continue to pay people ESA while a second opinion is given on their application.

The cost of a second opinion

In July, Citizens Advice published a new report called ‘The cost of a second opinion’ [ 130 kb].  It shows how reforms designed to improve how Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) decisions are reconsidered has led to increased stress and delays for claimants, leaving some with no money while they wait for the Department for Work and Pensions to make a decision. You can download a copy of the full research here [ 320 kb].

We were pleased that the Work and Pensions Select Committee seem to agree with us – just a few days later they published their own report saying that the current situation is ‘illogical’. Most recently, we’ve taken to social media to remind the DWP that we’re still waiting for them to respond and state how they’re going to sort this situation out.

Take action

  • Sign our petition calling for the Government to pay claimants while a second opinion is given on their application.
  • Show your support for the campaign via social media and help us spread the message. You could use the below social media messages to let your friends and followers know about this important issue.
  • If you have experience of ESA, either as someone who has made a claim, as a GP, from working in a Jobcentre or for Atos, please share your experiences via our blog site, tweet your story using the hashtag #FitforWork or share it on our Facebook timeline.
  • Contact your MP - download our template letter [Word 40 kb] asking your local MP to support our campaign.
  • Find out how Citizens Advice Bureaux and other organisations can take action on challenging discrimination in the ESA process.

Social media

  • .@INSERTMPTWITTERHERE The govt has failed to make ESA #fitforwork: Will you commit to fixing it in your manifesto?
  • I’m supporting @CitizensAdvice campaign to make ESA #FitforWork:
  • Know anyone who’s experienced problems claiming disability benefit? @CitizensAdvice want their story: #FitforWork

Latest #fitforwork news

27 November: The government published its response to the Work & Pensions Select Committee recommendations on ESA, and we think that they have missed a chance to dramatically improve the system. They have said that they will not pay people while they wait for a second opinion on their claim, despite the experts at the Select Committee, the 15,000 people who signed our petition, and thousands of others who are facing weeks without financial support all calling for an end to this illogical situation. Read our blog to find out more, and send our template letter to your MP Google Doc to ask them to make ESA fit for work.

28 October - On the first birthday of Mandatory Reconsideration, hundreds of you took part in a ‘thunderclap’. This reached over 400,000 people and helped us ramp up the pressure on the DWP to publish their response to the Work & Pensions Select Committee report, which called for people to paid during Mandatory Reconsideration.

13 October - We met with the DWP and gave our views on how the ESA50 – the application form for ESA – needs to change to improve the claim process

29 August - We met with representatives from the DWP to pass on our concerns around medical evidence, mandatory reconsideration and the WCA - our points were very well received

18 August - Citizens Advice's response to work capability assessment independent review - full recommendation paper [ 0.73 mb] and executive summary [ 230 kb].

23 July - Work and Pensions Select Committee released their latest report into the Work Capability Assessment.

21 July - The cost of a second opinion [ 130 kb] report on mandatory reconsideration.

16 June - Brief for MPs on madatory reconsideration [ 160 kb] for Parliamentary debate.

13 June - New blog on whether 89% drop in ESA appeals is a good or bad thing.

10 June - Gillian Guy our chief executive's blog asks what will happen now Atos are leaving.

15 May - read the blog from York and District CAB.

14 May - take a look at the results of our recent survey [ 0.57 mb] into GP medical evidence.

28 April - Kierra Box's blog on six months of mandatory reconsideration.

27 March - Citizens Advice's response to Atos quitting the work capability assessment.

17 March - Rachael Holmes's 100 voices for change blog.

4 February - Independent story on changes to ESA.

3 February - Hugh Stickland blogs about why we're campaigning on ESA.

25 January - Citzens Advice respond to new Government figures on ESA.

Do you need help with your ESA case?

If you need help with your ESA case we can help.