3. Limited capability for work
One of the basic rules of entitlement to employment and support allowance (ESA) is that you must be assessed as having ‘limited capability for work’. This means that your mental or physical condition makes it unreasonable to require you to work. You are normally assessed at a medical, known as the ‘work capability assessment’. This also assesses whether you have ‘limited capability for work-related activity’. If you are assessed as having both limited capability for work and limited capability for work-related activity, you are in the ‘support group’ and your ESA includes an amount called a ‘support component’.
If you are assessed as only having limited capability for work, you are in the ‘work-related activity group’. You are expected to attend work-focused interviews and may be required to undertake work-related activity. If you do not do so, your benefit may be reduced. If your claim began before 3 April 2017, your ESA includes a ‘work-related activity component’. If it began on or after this date, it does not.
If you are assessed as not having limited capability for work, you are not entitled to ESA. However, you can challenge this decision if you disagree with it (see here). Most full-time students who get disability living allowance (DLA) or personal independence payment (PIP) and who are claiming income-related ESA are treated as having limited capability for work and do not have to satisfy this part of the test.1Reg 33(2) ESA Regs However, you must still satisfy the test if:
•you are a qualifying young person under 20; or
•you are claiming contributory ESA.
All students, unless they are in the support group, must take part in work-focused interviews and may have to undertake work-related activity as a condition of getting full benefit.2Regs 54 and 63(1) ESA Regs If you are required to undertake full-time study as part of your work-related activity, you can continue to get ESA, whether or not you get DLA or PIP.3Reg 14(2A) ESA Regs
Starting to study may prompt the Department for Work and Pensions to call you for a reassessment, although this should not happen routinely. At the next assessment, your ability to perform the set activities is considered in the context of what you can do in a typical day, including your college or university routines. For example, you may be asked questions about your ability to get around campus, your ability to get to and from lectures, how long you can sit comfortably to study, or your ability to hold a pen to take notes or write essays.
The questions you are asked depend on which of the set activities (such as standing and sitting, manual dexterity and understanding communication) are relevant to your condition.
See CPAG’s Welfare Benefits and Tax Credits Handbook for advice on medical examinations and what to do if you do not pass the assessment.
Rachel is 29 and getting contributory ESA that includes a support component. She starts a full-time course of study in August 2021. She continues to be eligible for contributory ESA, but is called for a medical reassessment. Her condition is still the same, she passes the assessment and her contributory ESA continues.