Work you can do while getting ESA

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

While you’re getting Employment Support Allowance (ESA) you might be able to do some types of work. 

You can:

  • do paid work within specific earning limits - called 'permitted work’

  • do domestic work in your own home, for example cooking or cleaning

  • volunteer for a charity or voluntary organisation 

  • care for a relative or receive payments for caring for someone else who lives with you, for example as a foster carer

  • do a government-approved work placement - this is unpaid practical work experience with an employer

  • take part in the ‘test trading scheme’ which helps people become self-employed

  • work as a councillor

  • work as a member of a First Tier Tribunal for HM Courts and Tribunals Service - this can be up to 1 full day or 2 half days a week

  • do emergency work to protect someone or prevent serious damage to property or livestock

The work you do doesn't have to be unpaid, but if you're on income-related ESA and you do earn money it will affect how much ESA you get. 

Permitted work

This is paid work you can do where you don’t earn more than:

  • £20 per week - called the permitted work lower limit

  • £183.50 per week and you work less than 16 hours per week - called the permitted work higher limit

You can earn £183.50 per week with no limit on the number of hours if it’s work:

  • being supervised by someone from a local council or voluntary organisation

  • as part of a treatment programme done under medical supervision while you’re in hospital or regularly attending hospital as an out-patient

You can do any type of permitted work but you can only do one at a time. It’s okay to move from one type of permitted work to another.

It’s important to let the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) know about any permitted work you do or if you change your permitted work. 

To let the DWP know fill in a permitted work form on GOV.UK. Post it to the address at the top of any of your ESA letters. Ask the Post Office for free proof of postage - you might need to show when you sent your form.

If you go over the permitted work higher limit

Your ESA payments will stop and you’ll need to re-apply. 

You should check how much ESA you’ll get before you do any work that might take you over the permitted limit.

Work your partner can do

The work your partner can do depends on the type of ESA you get.

If you’re not sure what type of ESA you get, you can ask the DWP by:

  • writing to the address on your ESA letters

  • calling the Jobcentre Plus

Jobcentre Plus

Telephone: 0800 169 0310

Textphone: 0800 169 0314

Welsh language: 0800 328 1744

Relay UK - if you can't hear or speak on the phone, you can type what you want to say: 18001 then 0800 169 0310

You can use Relay UK with an app or a textphone. There’s no extra charge to use it. Find out how to use Relay UK on the Relay UK website.

Video relay - if you use British Sign Language (BSL).  

You can find out how to use video relay on YouTube.

Monday to Friday, 8am to 5pm

Calls are free from mobiles and landlines.

If you’re on new style ESA or contribution-based ESA

Your partner’s work won’t affect your ESA payments.

Page last reviewed on 06 April 2020