Employment and Support Allowance (contribution-based)

Claiming 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.

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 to the value of 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 - 5th April
  • The benefit year runs from the first Sunday in January.
  • The lower earnings limit for the 2016/2017 tax year was £112 per week, for 2017/2018 it was £113 per week.

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 to qualify for contributory Employment and Support Allowance you should phone the Department for Work and Pensions on 0800 055 6688 (or 0800 023 4888 if you have a speech or hearing impairment).

Other conditions for ESA

As well as having paid enough National Insurance contributions you must also satisfy the other conditions for Employment and Support Allowance. 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) 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 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 income-related ESA to ‘top-up’ the amount you get. To find out your entitlement to income-related ESA please continue through the calculator.

Changes from October 2014

From 27 October 2014 the waiting days have been increased from 3 to 7 which means you will not be paid for the first 7 days of your claim.

Changes from April 2012

From April 2012 contributory ESA is time limited to one year for those in the work related activity group.

There is no time limit for income-related ESA or contributory ESA claimants in the support group.


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