The New Guide from the ME Association: Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) | 11 July 2019

July 11, 2019

The ME Association is indebted to our Welfare Rights Adviser, Ann Innes, for the text of this new 35-page Guide to Employment and Support Allowance.

It can be downloaded from the website shop, or ordered by phone to head office, or via order form:



This three-part guide is intended for those making both new claims for ESA or for Universal Credit based on health grounds. People making a renewal claim will also find it helpful.

The rules governing benefits are complex and ever-changing. This guide does not pretend to provide a full list of all them. It’s a general overview only. It is always sensible to seek detailed advice from a welfare rights specialist.

There are three types of ESA: New Style ESA, contribution-based ESA and income-related ESA.

In order to claim any of these, you must be of working age (aged 16 or over but under state pension age) and have an illness or impairment that affects your ability to work.

Part 2: The Work Capability Assessment Questionnaire

The ESA50 / UC50 Questionnaire allows the DWP to score you on a variety of different physical and cognitive tasks to assess your degree of functional impairment and how it affects your ability to work or undertake work-related activity with a view to moving towards work.

These tasks are called descriptors. Each descriptor has a variety of scores, depending on your level of difficulty carrying out that descriptor. In order to pass the Work Capability Assessment at all, you must score at least 15 points across all the descriptors.

To qualify for the “limited capability for work related activity” you must score a full 15 points on any of the “limited capability for work related activity” descriptors, which we will list below.

General Advice on Completing the Questionnaire

  • Get help to complete the ESA50 / UC50 as this plays an important role in the assessment process. People often answer incorrectly unless they are aware of the assessment criteria, which this guide aims to shed some light on.
  • When completing the form, think about the questions in the context of a work setting – working 16 hours or more a week. Remember, the DWP are assessing your ability to carry out any type of work, not just your previous job. In such a context, you would be expected to carry out each descriptor regularly, reliably, repeatedly and safely, within a reasonable timescale, without significant discomfort and to an acceptable standard. It must also apply for either most of the time, or the majority of the occasions that someone attempts that descriptor.
  • Do not complete the form as though it is your worst day. Yes, you do need to focus on what you can’t do rather than what you can do, but explain the variability. The reason I say this is that I have seen clients over the years omit to talk about variability, so that when they either are at their face-to-face assessment or in front of a tribunal panel, they seem “fine” – they can communicate, walk to the assessment room, handle their papers, etc – yet when someone looks at the form it sounds as though they are permanently bedridden and can never communicate. The first thing someone assessing you will think is that you are not credible, or that you have exaggerated your condition.
  • Continues with further advice about completing the questionnaire and with examples of how to respond to the descriptors…

Part 3 – The Face-to-Face Assessment

Preparing for the assessment

  • Try to take someone with you and for someone to support you to get there and back. You will be asked at the assessment how you got there and assumptions will be made if you got there yourself. Don’t forget, you not only have to deal with getting to an assessment centre, but also a potential wait of an hour or more to be seen sat upright in a straight backed chair, possibly without arms, in a potentially busy and noisy assessment centre with strip lighting. You then have to get through the assessment itself, which can last up to an hour (although typically it is usually around half an hour). You then have the journey home.
  • Ask for your assessment to be recorded. This should be done on your claim form but again over the telephone as soon as you receive your appointment. Call the number on your appointment letter to check this is in place.
  • You can change your face-to-face assessment appointment once only. If your request for a home visit is denied, back it up with medical evidence and ask for your request to be looked at again. An experienced welfare rights adviser may be able to assist you in changing the decision.
  • Continues with further advice about what to do in preparation and while at the assessment…

Help with benefits and social care

The ME Association

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