Investing in the future

The terrible mistake people make when they believe they don’t qualify for ESA or Universal Credit

Before I begin, I’m going to push this statement into your frontal lobe right now:

Regardless of your income, you might not get your full state pension if you don’t claim Employment Support Allowance (ESA) or Universal Credit

The very mention of Employment Support Allowance (ESA) or Work Capability Assessments (WCAs) can cause people to turn away but this fact is so important. You’ve gone through the process of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and come out of it bruised and battered. Why would you apply for another benefit in the knowledge that you may well have to go through another potentially distressing application and fight all over again? Especially if you’re over the income threshold for any payments anyway. Or if you manage some work during the week, so you’re probably ineligible….right?

Wrong! Did you know that,

  1. if you cannot work due to your ill health or disability, you are eligible for the NI credits part of ESA and UC even if your income is too high for the ESA payments?
  2. even if you do manage some work in the week, you’re still potentially eligible for financial support as well as NI credits?

What is ESA? and what is UC?

ESA, or Employment Support Allowance, is a benefit for those who cannot work at all or cannot hold down a job for over a certain number of hours a week due to disability or a health condition. It replaced Incapacity Benefit and Income Support in 2008.

Universal Credit (UC) replaces several benefits including ESA and is in the process (as of 2017) of being rolled out to eventually all parts of England, Scotland and Wales. UC is for people who are out of work or on a low income. The UC ‘Limited Capability for Work’ elements replace ESA and are designed for those with a health condition or a disability that affects their ability to work.

You need to know that both the ESA and the Limited Capability for work elements of UC benefit you in two ways – not only do they provide a regular amount of money if you are below a certain income level, they also provide you with national insurance credits no matter your income. These credits cover your national insurance contributions in the event that you are either unable to work completely, or unable to work over a certain number hours. To get the full basic State Pension you need a total of 30 qualifying years of National Insurance contributions or credits.

And, to be clear, this is true for both the ESA of pre-Universal-Credit  (pre-UC) days, and the Limited Capability for Work elements (LCW and LCWRA) of  Universal Credit that replace ESA. You can and should claim Universal Credit(UC) for a Limited Capability for Work element even if you are over the income level at which the Universal Credit Standard Allowance kicks in.  Finally, for completeness, if you apply for ESA, have enough NI contributions  and are in a UC rollout area, you will be applying for the  ‘new style’ ESA. If you are not placed in the Limited Capability for Work and Work-related Activity (LCWRA) group when assessed for the ‘new style’ ESA, then once your NI-contributions-based year of ‘new style’ ESA ends you will move to UC for the UC LCW (Limited Capability for Work)  element. If this is your path, then at this stage you are again still eligible for the UC LCW element regardless of your income, and therefore eligible for national insurance credits. (More information on the fun and bouncy labyrinth that is Universal Credit will be coming soon – watch this space).

So in summary, regardless of your income and regardless of whether or not Universal Credit has been rolled out to your area, you are eligible to claim a form of employment support benefit (whether that be ESA, ‘new Style’ ESA or a Limited Capability for Work element of UC) in order to access national insurance credits.

Why are people not applying for ESA?

A survey by the MS Society has indicated that there are far fewer people with MS who are on ESA than PIP (Personal Independence Payment) or DLA (Disability Living Allowance). PIP and DLA are paid to help with costs associated with living with a disability. There are about 60,000 people with MS claiming either PIP or DLA, but there are only around 24,500 claiming ESA. Sounds good right? Perhaps more than half of those claiming PIP or DLA are able to work the majority of hours a week despite their disabilities?

But what if this massive difference in numbers is because people often apply for PIP first, and are put off by the process? Or are just not signposted to ESA, unaware that it exists? Or because they don’t realise that you can do a certain number of hours of ‘permitted work‘ (including paid employment, self employment and voluntary) and still claim ESA?

Are you eligible even if you do some work?

Eligibility for ESA is based on the effect your disability has on your ability to hold down certain types of job for over a set number of hours or income a week. For example, you can earn up to £120 a week for work lasting less than 16 hours a week and still qualify for ESA. Or if you are doing work that is specifically for people with disabilities that has been found by, for example, a local authority or voluntary group, you can work as many hours as you like whilst earning up to £120 per week, and still claim ESA. The rules are slightly different for the Limited Capability for Work element of UC which replaces ESA, but a Work Allowance still exists and is definitely worth looking into.


A Plea

I am concerned that the MS Society’s statistic on lower ESA claims than PIP or DLA could actually be bad news. Instead of signifying a great work culture and market in our country that is inclusive for people with MS, it could instead be indicating ESA is under-claimed by the community. This would point to a potential hole in the pension pots of thousands of people with disabilities who are not able to work more than a certain number of hours a week, or cannot work at all. I hope that I am wrong, but I suspect not.

So I am asking you to share my simple opening statement far and wide throughout your communities. I am asking you to make sure you consider your pension before deciding on whether or not to embark on an ESA or Universal Credit application. If you’re wondering whether it’s worth working out if you’d qualify under ESA’s permitted work or the Work Allowance of UC, bear in mind you might be denying yourself a decent state pension later on if you don’t look into it. If you have gone through the ESA or Universal Credit process and believe you were wrongly denied the benefit, I’d urge you to take the decision to tribunal – consider the impact your assessor’s decision has on your national insurance contributions, on your future. Much depends on it.


Further Information

For more information about ESA, how to claim, and resources, see Disability Rights UK and  the MS Society’s Claiming ESA handbook. For more information about the disability elements of Universal Credit, see and turn2us.

For information about applying for PIP, see and


For information about appealing benefits decisions, see and

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  • Reply Jamie Scarrott December 6, 2018 at 2:33 pm

    Firstly thanks for all your advice on applying for PIP. It’s my second time applying for PIP, but the form has changed. It asks me if there are any “changes” to my health in all the questions. And if there is a change it asks for me to explain and evidence the changes. I’m unsure whether to include my previous applications replies, which awarded me “points”. Or do i leave them out as they already know about them and will score me the same if there is no change in whatever given area it is. I’m worried that if i state there is no change, that they will take this as i do not have a problem in that area anymore, despite it being just as bad as it previously was. And as a result score me as a zero for that question, just because it’s still as bad, but it has not changed. I’m really confused??
    Please could you advise me? I don’t trust the DWP, as they have never been particularly helpful or pleasant to talk to.
    Jamie Scarrott

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