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Incapacity Benefit

Moving from incapacity benefit (IB) to employment and support allowance (ESA)

You can no longer make a new claim or a linked claim for incapacity benefit or income support as incapable of work. Most people now have to claim employment and support allowance (ESA) instead. 

You can find out a lot more about making an effective ESA claim here.

Incapacity benefit to employment and support allowance FAQs

Almost all current claimants should have been moved off their incapacity benefit or income support as incapable of work and assessed for ESA at some time between March 2011 and March 2014.  The FAQs below deal with some of the issues you may be concerned about if you are still waiting to be transferred.

Who will be reassessed for employment and support allowance (ESA)?
Unless you reach pension age before 6 April 2014, if you are currently entitled to incapacity benefit (IB), severe disablement allowance (SDA) or income support (IS) on health grounds, then you will be reassessed to see if you are eligible for employment and support allowance (ESA)

You do not need to make a claim for ESA, you will be contacted by the DWP when they decide to reassess you. At the end of this process, people claiming only national insurance (NI) contribution credits on the grounds of incapacity for work will have their entitlement reassessed to see if they qualify for NI credits on the grounds of ‘limited capability for work’.

When will I be assessed for ESA?
The intention was that all claimants should have begun the reassessment process by March 2014. However, there appears to be a large backlog of assessments and it is no longer clear when the end date will be.

How will I know when the process has begun for me?
You will get a letter from the DWP telling you that you are about to be subject to the work capability assessment (WCA). You will also get a telephone call confirming this and asking if you need any additional support with the process. The next thing most people will receive is the ESA50 questionnaire, unless a decision to award you ESA is made just using the information already held about you.

Based on the information in the ESA50 questionnaire and any supporting evidence, plus on some occasions further evidence obtained from your GP or other health professional, either an award will be made or you will be asked to attend a medical

How will I be assessed for ESA?
The work capability assessment (WCA) for ESA is very similar to the personal capability assessment (PCA) for incapacity benefit. Most people have to complete a questionnaire and then attend a medical at a medical examination centre. A small number of people will be awarded ESA without having to attend a medical, especially those who are likely to be placed in the support group.

You can take our free, online ESA test here to find out how many points you assess yourself as scoring and whether you consider yourself to be eligible for the support group.

One of the main differences between an ESA assessment and an IB one is that for ESA you are being assessed not just to decide if you are capable of work but also, if you are not, to decide whether you are likely to be capable of work in the future and thus which ESA group you should be placed in.

If you are judged to be likely to be capable of work in the future you will be placed in the work-related activity group (WRAG). If it is decided that there is no reasonable prospect of you being fit for work, you will be placed in the support group.

The scoring system for getting into the WRAG is more straightforward than for IB. You just have to score a total of 15 points, regardless of how many are for physical health and how many are for mental health.

To get into the support group you need to show that one of a number of descriptors apply to you, there is no scoring involved.

One other major difference is that it is a lot harder for most people to score points for ESA than it is for IB.

I’m exempt from the personal capability assessment, will that make a difference?
It won’t mean that you are exempt from the WCA – there are very few exemptions from the WCA compared to the PCA for incapacity benefit.

I get the higher rate of the care /mobility components of DLA, will that make a difference?
Unfortunately, no it won’t. There are no exemptions from the WCA for getting higher rate care. And the test for ‘mobilising’ in the WCA is very different from the test for walking for DLA. So, it would be entirely possible to be getting higher rate mobility for DLA but still not score enough points to be awarded ESA.

If I go into the work-related activity group, does that mean I have to look for work?
If you are placed in the work-related activity group you will have to attend a number of work-focused interviews and you may also have to join the work-programme, where you may face pressure to apply for jobs.

Will I be better or worse off under ESA?
Some people may be better off if, for example, they are placed in the support group.

The DWP say that, where you would be worse off on ESA, your present rate of IB will be paid to you and frozen until the rate of ESA you are entitled to catches up.

How long does ESA last for?
If you are in the support group your award should last for as long as your condition continues to make you eligible. But even if you are in the Support Group, you are given a prognosis, which is marked on your file and you can be asked to complete a questionnaire as part of a reassessment when this period is over.

If you are in the work-related activity group and eligible for income-based ESA then you will continue to be eligible for ESA for as long as you continue to pass your regular WCAs.

However, if you receive contributory ESA things are very different. From April 2012, the DWP changed the rules so that you could only receive this for 1 year.

If I get found fit for work, what happens then?
You can challenge the decision. But if the decision was made after 28th October 2013, you can’t go straight to appeal. Instead you must first ask the DWP to carry out a ‘mandatory reconsideration’ of their decision. The mandatory reconsideration is a process by which the decision you are unhappy with is looked at again, usually by a different decision maker. Once you receive the mandatory reconsideration notice, telling you whether the decision has been changed and, if so how, you can then appeal if you are still unhappy.

Whilst the reconsideration is taking place you will not be able to claim ESA and will have to consider claiming JSA.

Find out more about ESA claims, medicals, mandatory reconsiderations and appeals here.