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Employment and Support Allowance (contribution-based)

Contributory Employment and Support Allowance provides financial help to people who are unable to work because of illness or disability. If you are a Universal Credit claimant this contributory benefit is known as 'new-style Employment and Support Allowance'. This help page covers both versions.

The contribution conditions

You qualify for contributory Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) if you have paid sufficient National Insurance contributions. There are two contribution conditions you must meet:

  • First contribution condition - in one of the last two complete tax years, you must have paid Class 1 or 2 contributions on relevant earnings at the lower earnings limit for at least 26 weeks. This means you must have worked for at least 26 weeks of the last two complete tax years; and
  • Second contribution condition - in both of the last two complete tax years, you must have paid or been credited with, Class 1 or 2 contributions on earnings of at least 50 times the lower earnings limit.

The 2 tax years that are relevant are the ones that were completed before the benefit year in which your period of limited capability for work began.

  • The tax year runs 6 April - 5 April
  • The benefit year runs from the first Sunday in January
  • The lower earnings limit for the following tax years was £120 per week in both 2020/21 and 2021/22 and £123 per week in 2022/23

Relaxation of the first contribution condition

The rules are complex and there are situations where the first contribution condition can be relaxed for certain groups of ESA claimants meaning that these specific groups can use National Insurance contributions paid in any tax year to satisfy the first contribution condition. This could apply to you if:

  • you were entitled to Carer's Allowance in the last complete tax year immediately before the benefit year in which your Limited Capability for Work began
  • you were in qualifying remunerative work and entitled to the disability element, or the severe disability element, of Working Tax Credit for at least two years immediately before the first day of your Limited Capability for Work began
  • you are entitled to be credited with earnings or contributions following release from prison where a conviction is quashed, or would be if an application was made, in respect of any week in any tax year before the relevant benefit year
  • you are entitled to be credited with earnings equal to the Lower Earnings Limit on the grounds that you are a spouse or civil partner of a member of Her Majesty's Forces and accompanied that member of Her Majesty's Forces on an assignment outside the UK or treated as such by the Secretary of State

If you think this could apply to you seek advice on your situation.

Find out if you meet the contribution conditions

To find out whether you have paid enough National Insurance contributions you can contact HMRC on 0300 200 3500 (or 0300 200 3519 if you have a speech or hearing impairment). 

You can also visit the website to check your National Insurance contributions record online.

Other conditions for contributory ESA

As well as having paid enough National Insurance contributions, you must also satisfy other conditions. To make an initial claim all you must do is provide a medical certificate. However, after an ‘assessment phase’ (which should be 13 weeks but can take longer) contributory ESA is only payable if you meet the ‘Work Capability Assessment’ rules.

Unlike means-tested benefits, there is no income and savings test for contributory ESA. However, your contributory ESA is reduced by half the amount of any pension or permanent health insurance payment received in excess of £85.

Even if you claim contributory ESA you may also be entitled to means-tested benefits to ‘top-up’ the amount you get. To find out your entitlement to means-tested benefits please continue through the calculator.

How much will I get?

The following rates are for 2024/25:

The assessment phase

The assessment phase rate is paid for the first 13 weeks of your claim while a decision is made on your capability for work through the Work Capability Assessment.

  • A single person aged under 25 - £71.70
  • A single person aged 25 and over - £90.50 for both contributory ESA and income-based ESA

Main phase, Work Related Activity Group

Prior to 3 April 2017 if you were placed in the Work Related Activity group you were awarded an additional component. New claims since this date do not have the additional component on top of the assessment rate as the work related activity component was abolished.

This change doesn't affect:

  • existing Employment and Support Allowance claimants who made a claim before 3 April 2017, they will continue to get the Work-related activity which is £35.95 a week from April 2024.
  • existing Employment and Support Allowance claimants who have a further Work Capability Assessment (re-assessment) after 3 April 2017 and are placed into the WRAG, even if they move from the support group to the WRAG
  • Incapacity Benefit re-assessment cases that are awarded Employment and Support Allowance
  • claimants who have a break in their claim and come back to Employment and Support Allowance within 12 weeks and their original date of claim is before 3 April 2017
  • claimants who claimed Employment and Support Allowance before 3 April 2017 and their Employment and Support Allowance claim was closed due to getting Maternity Allowance who then make a new claim to Employment and Support Allowance within 12 weeks of Maternity Allowance ending
  • mandatory reconsideration and appeal decisions for claims made before 3 April 2017

Main phase, Support Group

If, after the Work Capability Assessment, you are placed in the Support group you will be awarded an additional component worth £47.70 a week (from April 2024).

How do I claim?

Details on how to claim contributory and income based Employment and Support Allowance are available on the GOV.UK website

If you live in Northern Ireland more details are available on the NI Direct website