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Employment Support Allowance (ESA)

Employment Support Allowance (ESA)

New Sytle Contributory ESA

If you are not able to work due to illness or disability, you may be entitled to new style contributory Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) while you are a full-time student if you have previously worked and paid sufficient national insurance contributions.

Income-related ESA

It is no longer possible for most people to make new claims for income-related ESA. Income-related ESA has been replaced for new claimants by Universal Credit.

As a full-time student, you will only be able to continue an existing claim for income-related Employment and Support Allowance if you are also getting Disability Living Allowance (DLA) or Personal Independence Payment (PIP) or Armed Forces Independence Payment

If you are a full time student who is getting DLA, you count as having limited capability for work without having to have a Work Capability Assessment.

If you receive student support in the form of a grant or a loan, this will probably reduce the amount of income-related ESA you can get.

Work Capability Assessment

You are only entitled to ESA if you satisfy the Work Capability Assessment. If activities you do as part of your course suggest that you do not meet this test, you could lose this benefit. For example, if you are getting ESA because you said you have problems with walking and your course involves a lot of physical activity, this could cause your ESA claim to be reviewed.

If you are claiming Universal Credit as a student who has limited capability for work, you will need to satisfy the Work Capability Assessment. If activities you do as part of your course suggest that you do not meet this test, you could lose this benefit.

You may be entitled to ESA if you are found to have a limited capability for work. This means that because of your mental or physical condition it is unreasonable to require you to work. This is tested by the ‘work capability assessment’ (WCA). This test has two parts:

Part one tests whether your capability for work is limited by your physical or mental condition and, if so, whether the limitation is severe enough that it is not reasonable to require you to work.

This looks at physical activities such as mobilising, standing, sitting, picking things up, making yourself understood, understanding communication, navigation, maintaining safety, consciousness and absence of control of bladder and bowel. Mental activities are also considered such as the ability to learn simple tasks, awareness of everyday hazards, initiating personal action, coping with change, getting about, social engagement and appropriateness of behaviour with other people.

If you score sufficient points in the difficulties you have doing the above tasks your limited capability for work is determined.

Part two of the WCA considers whether you have ‘a limited capability for work related activity’. This determines whether you are placed in the support group or the work related activity group. Which group you are placed in affects the amount of ESA you can receive and the responsibilities you must meet to retain the benefit. Those in the work related activity group are required to carry out certain activities while those in the support group are not.

The work capability assessment should take place within 13 weeks following your claim. 

How do I claim ESA?

Applications should be made by booking a New Claim Appointment with your local jobcentre by calling freephone 0800 328 5644 textphone 0800 328 1344. They will send you a claim form to complete and bring to your appointment. Your appointment may last up to 1 hour and 20 minutes.


They will ask you to bring in a medical certificate called a ‘fit note’ from your doctor. This is a certificate which confirms you have limited capability for work due to a disability or medical condition.

You can also apply online then print the NSESAF1 form and bring it to your appointment. This may be easier but could delay the date of claim.

If the DWP decide you are eligible you will then start a 13 week assessment phase (during this phase a basic allowance is paid, linked to age). During these 13 weeks JCP will normally carry out a work capability assessment and you will usually be asked to fill out an ESA50 ‘limited capability for work questionnaire’. You may be asked to attend a medical examination and a face to face meeting.

You may be required to undertake work related activities to continue to claim and you will be given a personal action plan which you will need to follow. 

What happens if my ESA claim is refused?

If your claim is refused you can request a mandatory reconsideration and then an appeal. More information is available at

Contact a Welfare Adviser if you are experiencing problems with your claim. We can normally advise you on how to demonstrate that studying is different from work and on what supporting documents you will need.


More information

Law, regulations and policies can change quickly. The information on our website is given in good faith and has been carefully checked but QMUL cannot accept responsibility for any errors or omissions. QMUL is not responsible for the content or reliability of the linked websites which are provided for further information.

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