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Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) replaced incapacity benefits for new claimants from 27 October 2008. It replaced both Incapacity Benefit, and Income Support for people judged incapable of work. There are two forms of Employment and Support Allowance: contributory ESA, for those who have a sufficient National Insurance contribution record; and income-related ESA, which is means-tested.

To be eligible for ESA, a person must undergo a Work Capability Assessment (WCA). Claimants are assessed during the first 13 weeks of their claim (or longer if necessary) to determine whether they have a “limited capability for work”, and also whether they are capable of engaging in “work-related activity.” This second part of the assessment determines whether the person is placed in the “Support Group” or the “Work-Related Activity Group”; for those in the latter group, access to the full rate of benefit may be conditional on participation in Work-Focused Interviews (WFIs) and undertaking “work-related activity.” Claimants do not however have to be available for work or apply for jobs. Further information on the WCA is provided in the Library note on The Work Capability Assessment for Employment and Support Allowance.

In the Summer Budget 2015, the Government proposed to align ESA rates for those in the Work-Related Activity group with Jobseekers Allowance (currently £73.10 for people aged 25 and over) for new claims from April 2017, while providing “new funding for additional support to help claimants return to work.”[1] This would “ensure the right incentives and support are in place for those closer to the labour market to help them make this transition when they are ready.”[2] ESA claimants in the Support Group are unaffected.

From April 2013, Universal Credit (UC) began to replace a range of means-tested benefits and tax credits for working age families, including income-related ESA. The timetable for full roll-out of Universal Credit is not yet certain. Universal Credit will introduce a new conditionality regime, and claimants will be required to undertake activities tailored to their personal circumstances.

[1]     Ibid.

[2]     Summer Budget 2015, HC 264 2015-16, para 41

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