Fill in the ESA capability for work form

This advice applies to England. See advice for See advice for Northern Ireland, See advice for Scotland, See advice for Wales

After you’ve applied for ESA, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will usually send you a form called the ‘capability for work questionnaire’. It’s also called the ESA50.

You’ll usually get the form about 2 or 3 months after you apply for ESA.

The form helps the DWP decide if you have difficulty working because you’re sick or disabled. This is called having ‘limited capability for work’ (LCW). You'll keep getting ESA if they decide you have LCW.

Plan when to fill in the form

You must send the form back by the date on the letter that comes with the form - if you don’t, your ESA might stop. You’ll have 4 weeks from when the DWP sent the form. Allow time for the form to be posted.

Give yourself plenty of time to fill in the form and take breaks when you need to. This will help you include everything the DWP need to know.

If you've missed the deadline

Send the form as soon as you can. There’s space on the form to explain why you’re sending it back late. Your ESA might not stop if there’s a good reason you couldn’t send the form earlier - for example if you were in hospital or a close family member died.

If the DWP have already written to say they’ve stopped your ESA, you’ll also need to challenge their decision. You should do this within 1 month after the date at the top of the letter. Find out how to challenge the DWP’s decision.

If you don't get a form

The DWP might have decided you can keep getting ESA without being assessed. If this happens, they’ll write to say you’re ‘automatically treated as having limited capability for work’.

You might automatically have LCW if you:

  • only have a year left to live

  • can’t work because you’ve been in contact with an infection or contamination listed under public health laws

  • have some kinds of serious illness, including cancer

  • are an in-patient in a hospital or rehab centre

  • are pregnant or have recently given birth

  • need help to eat or drink

If you’re terminally ill but your doctor expects you to live more than a year, you should talk to an adviser.

If you get Universal Credit and already have LCW for Universal Credit, you’ll automatically have LCW for ESA as well.

If the DWP decide you automatically have LCW, you won’t have to go to a medical assessment. Instead, check the letter is right and what to do next.

If your condition changes day by day

You might find it hard to describe a normal day if your symptoms change or are worse on some days than others.

The DWP want to know what you can do most days. Think about:

  • what you usually expect to do in a day

  • what you can do on bad days - and how often they happen

  • what you can do on good days - and how often they happen

Try to keep a diary before you send the form, so it’s easier to see what you usually do. Keep the diary for 1 or 2 weeks if you have time, but don’t delay sending the form. You can send more information afterwards if you need to.

Before you start the diary, check the form to find out what activities and situations it asks about. Make a list of the ones you find difficult - for example if it’s hard to carry things or talk to people you don’t know. Use the list when you fill in the diary - this will make it easier to answer the questions on the form.

Filling in the form

Take your time answering each question, and have breaks when you need to.

It’s easier to decide what to write if you know how the DWP assess the form. This will help you give the DWP all the information they need.

You can ask someone to help you fill in the form - for example, you could:

How the DWP assess the form

The DWP use the form to help them decide if you:

  • have LCW - so you keep getting ESA

  • need to go to meetings or classes to help you start work - called ‘work-related activity’

The DWP use 2 sets of activities - one set to decide if you have LCW, and the other set to decide if you need to do work-related activity. Each activity is divided into specific tasks called ‘descriptors’.

The DWP check how many of the tasks apply to you.

When the DWP check the tasks for LCW, they give points for each task that applies to you. This means your answers can help you get ESA even if you only score some of the points. If you get 15 points or more, the DWP will decide you have LCW.

If any of the tasks for work-related activity apply to you as well, the DWP will decide you also have ‘limited capability for work-related activity’ (LCWRA).

When you answer each question on the form, check which tasks the question covers and explain how they apply to you. You can use our advice for each question to find out which tasks are covered and how to explain if they apply to you.

If you don’t understand one of the questions on the form, you can ask your nearest Citizens Advice to help you work out what it means.

Help filling in your details

If you're sending the form back late

Medical evidence

Your condition, illness or disability

Your medication and treatment

Help with the physical capabilities questions

Question 1: Moving around

Question 2: Standing and sitting

Question 3: Reaching

Question 4: Picking up and moving things

Question 5: Manual dexterity (using your hands)

Question 6: Communicating - speaking, writing and typing

Question 7: Communicating - hearing and reading

Question 8: Getting around safely

Question 9: Controlling your bowels and bladder and using a collecting device

Question 10: Staying conscious when awake

Help with the mental health questions

Question 11: Learning how to do tasks

Question 12: Awareness of hazards or danger

Question 13: Starting and finishing tasks

Question 14: Coping with changes

Question 15: Going out

Question 16: Coping with social situations

Question 17: Behaving appropriately

Question 18: Eating and drinking

Help with the last section of the form

Face-to-face assessment

Other information

After you've filled in the form

Post the form in the envelope that came with it. Ask the Post Office for proof of postage - you might need to show when you sent it.

You’ll need to go to a medical assessment to explain how your illness or disability makes it difficult for you to work. The assessment is called a ‘work capability assessment’.

The Health Assessment Advisory Service will write to tell you when the assessment is. They might not write straight away - it could be 1 or 2 months after you send the form. You’ll keep getting ESA payments while you’re waiting.

Before you go to the assessment, find out what happens at the assessment and how to prepare.

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Page last reviewed on 07 April 2020