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Check if you can claim ESA

This advice applies to Scotland

You might be able to get Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) if you have difficulty working because you’re sick or disabled. This is called having 'limited capability for work'.

Coronavirus - if you’ve been affected

You'll have limited capability for work and you won’t need to provide a fit note if any of the following apply:

  • you or your child think you have coronavirus or you’re recovering from it
  • you or your child are self-isolating because you came into contact with someone who might have coronavirus
  • you’ve been told to stay at home for at least 12 weeks by the NHS because you’re at high risk of severe illness if you get coronavirus

You can get ESA at the same time as other benefits like Personal Independence Payment (PIP).

You can’t usually get ESA at the same time as Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) or Income Support.

If you’re employed but you can’t work, you’ll usually get Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) from your employer for 28 weeks. You can’t get SSP and ESA at the same time, but you can start your ESA claim up to 3 months before your SSP ends. It’s worth claiming ESA early so your payments start as soon as possible.

You can get ESA if you’re self-employed - the application process is the same.

To claim ESA you must:

  • be aged 16 or over
  • live in England, Wales or Scotland

You can only do a limited amount of work while you get ESA – check what work you can do while getting ESA.

Check what type of ESA you can claim

The type of ESA that most people can claim is called 'new style' ESA.

You can’t claim new style ESA if you’re getting, or recently stopped getting, a benefit with a severe disability premium (SDP).

If you’ve been getting an SDP, you can apply for the old types of ESA instead.

If you should have been getting an SDP but it’s not included in your benefits, contact your nearest Citizens Advice.

Check if you’ve been getting a severe disability premium

You might get an SDP with:

  • income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Income Support
  • Housing Benefit

Check your benefit award letter to see if you’re getting an SDP – it usually says you’re getting it “because you are severely disabled”.

You can’t claim new style ESA if you’re getting a benefit with an SDP. 

You also can’t claim new style ESA if you stopped getting a benefit with an SDP in the last month and you can still get an SDP. Check if you can get an SDP on GOV.UK.

Contact your nearest Citizens Advice if you’re getting a disability benefit from a country in the EU, Norway, Switzerland, Iceland or Liechtenstein.

Check if you can claim new style ESA

You must have met National Insurance conditions for 2 tax years – in 2020 the tax years are 2017-18 and 2018-19.

You can check your National Insurance record on GOV.UK. It will say if you have a 'full year' of contributions, and if this comes from employment, self-employment or National Insurance credits.

You might have got National Insurance credits to fill gaps in your payments. For example, if you were getting benefits because you weren’t working or were ill.

To meet the National Insurance conditions, you’ll need to have a full year of contributions for both tax years. You must have either:

  • both full years from employment or self-employment
  • 1 full year from employment or self-employment and the other full year from National Insurance credits

If you don’t think you meet the National Insurance conditions or you can’t check your National Insurance record, you should still apply for new style ESA. The DWP will check your National Insurance record as part of your application.

Even if you don’t qualify for new style ESA, you might still get National Insurance credits if you have limited capability for work. This might help you qualify for ESA in the future. If you have a pension it could also add to your contributions.

If you and your partner can both claim new style ESA, you should make separate claims.

How to claim new style ESA

If you’re eligible for new style ESA, you’ll usually have to apply online.

Find out how to claim new style ESA.

Check if you can claim the old types of ESA

You can only claim the old types of ESA if you’ve been getting a benefit with an SDP. You might be able to get:

  • ‘income-related’ ESA – if you have no income or a low income
  • ‘contribution-based’ ESA – if you’ve paid enough National Insurance contributions

You only have to apply once for the old types of ESA. When you apply, they will check if you can get 1 or both types.

To get income-related ESA:

  • you must have no income or a low income
  • you must have less than £16,000 in savings

If you live with a partner, the DWP will add your income and savings together.

If you’re in full time education, you can only get income-related ESA if you also get Disability Living Allowance (DLA), Personal Independence Payment (PIP) or Armed Forces Independence Payment (AFIP).

If you're returning to the UK from abroad

You’ll need evidence that the UK, Ireland, Channel Islands or Isle of Man is now your main home and you plan to stay. This is called being 'habitually resident' – check how to prove you’re habitually resident.

If you’re from the EU, Norway, Switzerland, Iceland or Liechtenstein

To apply for income-related ESA you need to show:

  • you have a right to claim benefits in the UK - this is called a 'right to reside' and depends on things like your work, family and personal situation
  • the UK, Ireland, Channel Islands or Isle of Man is your main home and you plan to stay – this is known as being 'habitually resident'

If you’ve lived in the UK for 5 years or more

You should apply for 'settled status'. If you have settled status, you automatically have a right to reside.

Check how to apply for settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme.

Your ESA might stop if you don’t have settled status by 31 December 2020.

If you think you’ll need extra support to apply, you can contact Citizens Advice Scotland’s free EU Citizens Support Service. Find out how to contact the service.

If you’ve lived in the UK for less than 5 years

You should apply for 'pre-settled status' - if you have it, you might be able to get ESA. You’ll still need to show:

Check how to apply for pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme.

If you think you’ll need extra support to apply, you can contact Citizens Advice Scotland’s free EU Citizens Support Service. Find out how to contact the service.

Find out more about staying in the UK after Brexit.

Check if you can claim contribution-based ESA

You must have met National Insurance conditions for 2 tax years – in 2020 the tax years are 2017-18 and 2018-19.

You can check your National Insurance record on GOV.UK. It will say if you have a 'full year' of contributions, and if this comes from employment, self-employment or National Insurance credits.

Get help from your nearest Citizens Advice if you can’t check your National Insurance record.

To meet the National Insurance conditions, you’ll need to have a full year of contributions for both tax years. You must have either:

  • both full years from employment or self-employment
  • 1 full year from employment or self-employment and the other full year from National Insurance credits

Get help from your nearest Citizens Advice if you have both full years from National Insurance credits.

If you and your partner can both claim contribution-based ESA, you should make separate claims.

How to claim the old types of ESA

If you’re eligible for the old types of ESA, you’ll usually have to apply over the phone.

Find out how to claim income-related and contribution-based ESA.

If you’re struggling with living costs

You can check what benefits and extra help you can get.

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