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Employment & Support Allowance (ESA) - Mental Health

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is a welfare benefit which is paid to people who are unable to work because of an illness, mental health disabilities or health condition.

Since ESA was introduced in October 2008 many people have found it difficult to qualify for the benefit and many advice organisations have highlighted problems in the way the test is carried out.

The Government are looking into possibly changing the qualifying criteria and how to improve the process. This factsheet is therefore correct at the time of going to print but some information may be subject to change.

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What if I have a relative who refuses to claim benefit?

Some people with mental health problems can't or don't want to claim benefits even though they are entitled to them. It's usually possible for a relative or friend to become an 'appointee' and make a claim on behalf of the person whose mental health difficulties are affecting their judgement.

You should speak to the DWP and ask for the leaflet called 'Help with claiming benefits for people with a disability or illness'.

What is Employment & Support Allowance (ESA)?

On 27th October 2008, ESA replaced the benefits paid to people over 16 and under pension age if being ill or disabled makes it difficult for them to work. The main benefits replaced were:

  1. Income Support (IS) paid with an extra amount (called a 'disability premium')
  2. Incapacity Benefit (IB)
  3. Severe Disablement Allowance (SDA)

People who are still receiving these benefits will be moved over or 'migrated' to ESA. The DWP plan to start this with a small group of people in October 2010. They will then start to migrate everyone else starting in February 2011. As there are a great number of people still receiving these benefits this will not be a quick process. The DWP believe everyone will be moved onto ESA by 2014.

When your current benefit is up for renewal, instead of being asked to go through the Personal Capability Assessment you will be asked to go through the Work Capability Assessment.

If you are due to reach the qualifying age for pension credit between now and 2014 you will remain on your current benefit and move straight onto pension credit.

Why the change?

The government wants to help people who are sick or disabled to get into work or stay in work if they already have a job.

How does ESA work?

There are three different types of ESA.
  1. Some people will get 'contributory ESA' because they made enough National Insurance contributions while they were at work to qualify for it (similar to Incapacity Benefit).
  2. Others will get 'ESA in youth' because their 'period of limited capability for work' began before they were 20 or sometimes 25 (similar to SDA).
  3. Many will get 'Income-related ESA' provided they satisfy the rules about income and capital. These are very similar to the current rules for IS.

Everybody making a new claim for ESA (unless terminally ill) will go into the 'assessment phase' for the first 13 weeks. During this period, the Department of Work & Pensions (DWP) will assess your physical & mental health and your prospects of working or training for work. While this happens, single people will be paid the basic ESA allowance which will be the same as Jobseeker's Allowance.

This is £65.45 for people 25 or over, and £102.75 for couples. These figures are correct for the period April 2010 until March 2011.

For further information, please see Employment and Support Rates

At the end of the 13 weeks (it could take longer) there will be three possibilities:
  1. Some people will have to look for work and claim JSA.
  2. Some will remain on ESA and will move into the 'work related activity' group.
  3. Some will remain on ESA and move into the 'support' group.

Both groups who remain on ESA will get an additional amount - £25.95 for the 'work related activity group' and £31.40 for the 'support' group. People in the support group who get Income-related ESA will also receive the Enhanced Disability premium of an extra £13.65.

It will be possible for people on Income-related ESA to be paid extra money called 'premiums' currently paid to people on IS who qualify for them (e.g. because they receive a certain level of Disability Living Allowance, live alone and nobody is claiming Carers Allowance for supporting them). This will be in addition to the basic ESA allowance and the additional amount paid for support or work related activity.

Phasing in ESA

If you are currently receiving IB, IS or SDA you may be entitled to less ESA under the new system than what you get at the moment. For example people now on IB who have partners or children (or both) are paid additional allowances for them but this will not happen with ESA.

So when you move to the new benefit, you will get an extra payment called 'transitional benefit' which will bring your ESA up to the same level as your current payment. No existing claimants should be worse off because of the change to ESA.

Key Points

  1. ESA is paid to people who have 'limited capability for work'.
  2. To start a claim for ESA you need a note from your GP to confirm that you are not fit for work.
  3. You are then asked to take part in a Work Capability Assessment (WCA) so the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) can decide whether you qualify for ESA.
  4. If you do qualify for ESA you will be placed into either the 'Work Related Activity Group' or the 'Support Group'.
  5. If you are in the Work Related Activity Group you have to attend meetings with a personal adviser to discuss and prepare for an eventual return to work.
  6. If you are placed in the Support Group you don't have to prepare for a return to work but you can if you want to.
  7. If the DWP decide that you don't qualify for ESA then you will be expected to claim Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA).
  8. If you disagree with any of the decisions the DWP make you have the right to ask them to look at the decision again or lodge an official appeal.
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