For Families and Carers : Universal Credit and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

Our Employment and Support Allowance information is available to download here.


Prior to Universal Credit, Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) was the benefit to claim if you were 16-64 and could not work because of sickness or disability.

It has been replaced by Universal Credit in most areas now. Universal Credit will replace the following benefits:

  • Child Tax Credit
  • Housing Benefit
  • Income Support
  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • Working Tax Credit

If you currently receive any of these benefits, you cannot claim Universal Credit at the same time.

Universal Credit is being introduced in stages across the UK. You do not need to do anything until you hear from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) about moving to Universal Credit, unless you have a change in circumstances.

If you currently receive a Severe disability premium as part of your benefit (for our members this is generally within their ESA amount), or were entitled to it in the last month, you cannot claim Universal credit and will remain on your current benefit.

Universal Credit while at school/college

Universal Credit is more problematic to claim for those still in education. Please call the benefit adviser for help.

In order to be awarded Universal Credit (UC), a student must be entitled to Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payment and also have limited capability for work. They would therefore need to satisfy the work capability assessment (WCA).

Universal credit is also means tested, so if they have savings between £6,000-£16,000, it will affect the amount of UC received.

The issue for claiming as a student

Previously for those claiming income related ESA, the fact that the student was in receipt of DLA or PIP was generally enough to treat them as having limited capability for work once they had provided a medical certificate.

This provision does not exist within Universal credit which means that students are being refused because they initially do not have limited capability for work.

A possible solution?

Apply for contributory ‘new style’ ESA .  A claim can be made even if the national insurance contributions are not met and the student can have their limited capability for work assessed through a work capability assessment.

You should explain that as a full-time student they are not entitled to any benefits and want to make a credits only claim to be credited with class 1 national insurance contributions so this can be counted for their state retirement pension. Although not receiving money, they would go through the motions of making a claim and complying with the other conditions of entitlement, such as sending in medical certificates.

Once they have been assessed as having limited capability for work, they can then proceed to claim Universal credit. Being assessed as having limited capability for work for ESA allows you to have a limited capability for work for a UC claim.

Some of our members have been informed that new style ESA does not exist and that a claim for Universal credit must be made, this is incorrect. Have a look on the government website for up to date information and telephone numbers for a form to be sent out.

Ask for UC claim not to be decided until the work capability assessment has been carried out.  If DWP refuses the UC claim because the student does not have limited capability for work when they claim, they should stockpile these claims until the student has had their limited capability for work assessed.

Is it right for a young person with Down’s syndrome to claim UC at 16?

If your child claims benefits in their own right at 16, you lose Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit or any child amounts for them if you receive Universal Credit yourself.  This is because they no longer count as your dependent, or a member of your household for benefit purposes.

If the whole family is on means-tested benefits CHECK BEFORE YOUR CHILD CLAIMS.  Means-tested benefits include Universal credit , Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related ESA, Housing Benefit, Council Tax Support, Pension Credit and Working Tax Credit. You may lose out overall if your child claims benefit in their own right.  Claiming separately for your son or daughter may mean that the family’s income as a whole is reduced.  CHECK before claiming, if you receive means-tested benefits.

As you all know, the benefits system is complicated, and the most basic advice is always – if in doubt, CHECK YOUR OWN SITUATION.

Does claiming Universal Credit mean my child won’t ever work?

Claiming UC does not mean that your child can’t work or will never work.  You can work while on UC as it works on a sliding scale of earnings. Remember to inform the DWP beforehand . Unlike ESA, the hours you can work and how much you can earn are no longer  limited.  If you have been assessed as having limited capability for work, you can keep more of the money you earn.

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