Benefits Expert: ‘Can you explain ESA?

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Q I am 62 and have been receiving Incapacity Benefit (IB) for the past 11 years but never qualified for Income Support because of my other income.

Following a medical assessment I received a letter from the Department for Work and Pensions saying I was entitled to Contributory Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and that I was in the work-related activity group.

I am not sure what all this is about or how long I will get this benefit for. Can you explain?

Mr W. (by Email).

A ESA, which replaced IB three years ago, has a different medical test.

People who were on IB at the time of change stayed on it at first but are now having to take the ESA test.

The ESA medical assessment decides if the person has a limited capacity for work.

If it is found that they have, they will be placed either in the ‘work-related activity group’ or the ‘support group’.

People in the work-related activity group are expected to do something to improve their prospects of returning to work.

Those in the support group will be those with severe health problems who could not be expected to make themselves ready for work.

People who are found not to have a limited capacity for work cannot get ESA and will lose their IB but may be able to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance. Contributory ESA is based upon the person’s National Insurance record and is paid at a set rate.

There is also Income-related ESA which can be paid in addition to, or instead of, Contributory ESA and depends upon financial circumstances. Contributory ESA for someone in the work-related activity group like you is £94.25 a week. However, as with IB, it will be reduced if there is income from a personal or occupational pension of more than £85 a week.

If you were receiving more from IB than you are entitled to in Contributory ESA your benefit will be paid at your old IB rate.

IB and Contributory ESA used to be paid indefinitely as long as the person satisfied the medical conditions.

As part of the Government’s spending review, however, from April 2012 the maximum period for which anyone in the work-related activity group like you can receive Contributory ESA is to be limited to a year.

So you can only expect to receive ESA for twelve months from the date when you transferred from IB. Someone whose Contributory ESA runs out after a year may be able to claim Income-related ESA depending upon their income. You however may be eligible for Pension Credit because at 62 you have already reached the qualifying age.