Universal Credit is gradually replacing income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) as the main benefit to claim if you can’t work because of sickness or disability. This page tells you more about how Universal Credit works and how current sickness and disability benefits like ESA, Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Disability Living Allowance (DLA) will be affected by Universal Credit.
Can I claim Universal Credit if I’m sick or disabled?
Living in Northern Ireland or Scotland?
In Northern Ireland, Universal Credit works differently. Find out more on the nidirect website.
In Scotland, you might be offered some choices about how your Universal Credit is paid. Read our guide to Universal Credit in Scotland.
Universal Credit is a new benefit replacing six existing means tested benefit if you are on low income and don’t have savings.
One of the benefits Universal Credit replaces is income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). Most people who would have qualified for this benefit now have to claim the limited capability for work and work-related activity element of Universal Credit.
Depending on your circumstances, if you’re eligible for Universal Credit, you might be able to claim new-style Employment and Support Allowance on top of (or instead of) your Universal Credit payment. This will depend on how much you earn and whether you have made enough National Insurance contributions.
If you are eligible to claim new-style ESA and qualify for help with other costs, like paying your rent or looking after children, you will have to make an additional claim for Universal Credit.
If you aren’t eligible to claim new-style ESA but can claim Universal Credit, you can make a claim for the ‘limited capability for work or work-related activity’ element of Universal Credit.
If you aren’t eligible to claim Universal Credit but have earned enough and paid enough National Insurance Contributions, you may still be able to claim contributory ESA.
Can I claim Universal Credit if I’m working?
You can claim Universal Credit if you’re working, and if you’re assessed as having limited capability for work, you can earn a certain amount before your Universal Credit payments are affected. This is known as the work allowance.
If you earn more than the work allowance, your Universal Credit payments will gradually reduce as your pay increases.
How does Universal Credit affect PIP and DLA?
If you’re an adult and getting either Personal Independence Payment (PIP) or Disability Living Allowance (DLA), it will continue to be paid along with your Universal Credit payment.
You get these benefits if your condition is severe enough for you to qualify for them. They won’t affect the amount you get in Universal Credit.
However, if you’re claiming DLA or PIP for a sick or disabled child, the rate of benefit you’re getting can affect your Universal Credit payment.
Moving from Employment and Support Allowance to Universal Credit
When will I move from ESA onto Universal Credit?
If you are already claiming ESA and your circumstances remain the same, you don’t need to do anything. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will contact you when it’s time to switch on to Universal Credit.
However, if there are certain changes in your life, what the DWP call a ‘change in circumstances’, you might be asked to make a new claim for Universal Credit.
If this happens, any other benefits you are getting which are being replaced by Universal Credit will also stop and should form part of your new Universal Credit claim instead. This will include Housing Benefit, Tax Credits and Income Support.
What are significant changes of circumstances?
A significant change in circumstances might include:
- starting work
- failing a work capability assessment
- start renting a new property (certainly if you move to a new local authority).
Will I get less money if I move from ESA to Universal Credit?
Universal Credit payments are made up of a standard allowance plus payments (called elements) for your personal circumstances. The limited capability for work element replaces income-related ESA. The rates paid for this element are lower than the current ESA rates.
If certain circumstances change in your life, and you have to claim Universal Credit before being switched by DWP, you will be assessed under Universal Credit rule. This means your award might be less than what you’re currently getting, but it could also be more.
If you are getting the Severe Disability Premium
The Severe Disability Premium is paid to people getting certain means-tested benefits (including ESA) who live alone and who have substantial care needs. It is not available under Universal Credit.
From 16 January 2019, you will not be asked to start claiming Universal Credit if you’re getting the Severe Disability Premium as part of your ESA payment. You will not be moved onto Universal Credit until you qualify for transitional protection, which tops up your income to make sure you’re not worse off.
You will not be moved onto Universal Credit until the DWP asks you to as part of the managed migration programme, which is not due to start until November 2020 at the earliest. When you are asked to move onto Universal Credit, you will qualify for transitional protection, which tops up your income to make sure you’re not worse off.
If you have already moved onto Universal Credit and lost the SDP
If you were getting the Severe Disability Premium, but were moved to Universal Credit before 16 January 2019, you will continue to claim Universal Credit.
It’s expected that you will qualify for a lump sum payment to compensate you for any money lost since the removal of the SDP. You will also receive an ongoing monthly transitional protection payment as part of your Universal Credit award. How and when this will happen is expected to be announced before July 2019.
Work Capability Assessment
When you make a claim for the limited capability for work and work-related activity of Universal Credit, you may be asked to attend a Work Capability Assessment. This is designed to assess how your disability or illness affects your ability to work.
You will be assessed as being in one of the following categories:
- you are fit for work
- you have limited capability for work - which means that although you may be unable to look for work now, you can prepare to work at some time in the future
- you have limited capability for work and work-related activity - which means that you won’t be asked to look for work or prepare for work.
The assessment will also be used to decide which rate of the limited capability for work element you should get.
Limited capability for work rates for 2018/2019
|Limited capability for work*
|Limited capability for work and work-related activity
*Limited capability for work rate is no longer paid for claims on or after 3 April 2017.
Remember, this amount is paid monthly as part of your total Universal Credit payment.
Am I eligible for new-style ESA?
New-style ESA is a contribution-based benefit. This means you may be able to claim it if you’ve paid enough National Insurance Contributions in the two full tax years before the year you’re claiming in.
It is paid regardless of how much you or your spouse or partner have in income or savings.
You will need to have a fit note from your doctor to start your claim.
Work Capability Assessment
You will usually need to undergo a Work Capability Assessment to find out whether you’re eligible for new-style ESA. If you’re applying for Universal Credit and new-style ESA, you will have a single assessment for both benefits.
You won’t have to undergo an assessment for certain medical conditions. For example:
- any terminal illness
- some pregnancy-related conditions
- some cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
After you’ve made your claim, you’ll be paid a weekly assessment rate for up to 13 weeks while you’re waiting for your work capability assessment appointment.
After your assessment, if it’s decided you can get new-style ESA, you’ll be placed in one of two groups:
- the support group – if your condition is so severe that you can’t work or take steps to prepare for work
- the work-related activity group – if your condition allows you to do some work or to take steps to prepare for work
How much is new-style ESA?
New-style ESA is paid every two weeks for up to a year (365 days).
If you’re also getting Universal Credit for other costs like your rent or support for children, the amount you’re getting in new-style ESA will be deducted from your Universal Credit payment.
||2018/2019 assessment rate paid for the first 13 weeks
|18 to 24
||up to £57.90 (per week)
|25 and over
||up to £73.10 (per week)
New-style ESA rate - paid after your Work Capability Assessment
||Rate for 2018/2019
|Work-related activity group
||up to £73.10 (per week)
||up to £109.10 (per week)
If you’re in the support group and on income-related ESA, you’re also entitled to the enhanced disability premium at £16.40 a week.
You may also qualify for the severe disability premium, which is £64.30 per week.
If you live alone, have substantial care needs and get the severe disability premium, you will not be moved to Universal Credit if your circumstances change. You will only be asked to move onto Universal Credit when DWP ask you, so you will qualify for transitional protection.
If you’ve already moved to Universal Credit and lost your severe disability premium, the government has said you will get on-going payments to cover the difference and additional payments for the period since you moved. Final details for this are yet to be confirmed.
Can I get new-style ESA after one year?
If you’re in the support group, you can continue to get new-style ESA while you remain in this group. You are likely to have another Work Capability Assessment to see if you still qualify.
If you are in the work-related activity group, your new-style ESA payment will stop.
If you’re still eligible for help because of your illness or disability, you may be able to claim the ‘limited capability for work’ element as part of your Universal Credit payment.
Universal Credit if you have a sick or disabled child
If your child is disabled or has a long-term health condition, you may be able to claim the disabled child element as part of your monthly Universal Credit payment.
The rate of disabled child element you get will depend on the rate of DLA or PIP you are getting for them.
You will get the higher rate if your child is:
- already getting the DLA higher rate care component
- already getting the PIP enhanced daily living component, or
- registered blind
You will get the lower rate if your child is getting all other rates of DLA or PIP.
Disabled child element for 2018/19
Remember, you will get this payment as part of your single monthly Universal Credit payment.
Universal Credit if you’re caring for someone
If you’re a carer for someone in your household who is severely disabled you may be able to get the ‘carer’s element’ as part of your monthly Universal Credit payment.
How much is it?
The carer’s element is £156.45 a month.
Who gets it?
You should be caring for someone for at least 35 hours a week. You don’t have to be claiming Carer’s Allowance to get the carer’s element.
Will it affect my other benefits?
If the person you’re caring for is also getting Universal Credit, it won’t affect their payment.
However, the benefits of the person you’re caring for can be affected if
- you get the carer’s element, and
- the person you’re caring for gets the severe disability premium.
What if there are two carers in one household?
If you and someone else in your household care for the same person, you can’t both get the carer’s element. You will have to decide between you who will claim it.
What if you’re already getting Carer’s Allowance?
If you’re getting Carer’s Allowance you can continue to get it, if you continue to be eligible.