Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is a type of financial benefit that might be available if you have ‘limited capacity to work’, such as a health condition or disability which inhibits your ability to work.
The allowance is designed to provide some financial security whilst you are unable to generate income. It’s particularly useful if you’re a self-employed freelancer and don’t have an employer to pay Statutory Sick Pay when you need time off sick.
What is the new-style Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)?
Most people who claim ESA now get what is called ‘new style ESA’, which replaced the previous income-based and contribution-based allowances.
It’s a contributory benefit, which means that you must have made sufficient National Insurance contributions or NI credits in last few years to receive it.
Although there are still some people receiving the old types of ESA, any new claims will now receive the new style Employment and Support Allowance which provides:
- Financial support towards your living costs
- Class 1 National Insurance credits, which can support your State Pension and other benefits.
- Professional support if you’re able to return to work.
How much can I claim with the Employment and Support Allowance?
A new claim for the ESA can take several weeks, or even months, to be assessed, so you’ll normally be entitled to an ‘assessment rate’ of ESA until a decision has been made. The assessment rates of new style ESA are currently:
- £67.20 per week for anybody under 25
- £84.80 per week for anybody 25 and over
If you are deemed eligible following assessment, any money owed from the assessment period will be backdated.
Assessment categorises those who are eligible for ESA into two groups: ‘work-related’ (those who will likely be able to work again) and ‘support’ (those who aren’t likely to work in the future).
The new style ESA rates for these groups are currently:
- Work-related: up to £84.80
- Support: up to £128.85
Note: a private pension of more than £85 per week may impact how much you can receive in ESA.
Who is eligible for new style ESA?
Employment and Support Allowance is available to those who are employed, unemployed, or self-employed, although you will need to meet the criteria in order to qualify.
To be eligible to receive ESA, you must:
- Have a disability or health condition that directly limits your capacity to work
- Have worked as an employee or been self-employed
- Be aged 16 or over
- Be under the State Pension age (you can find out more about this on the GOV.UK website)
- Live in England, Wales, or Scotland
- Have paid sufficient National Insurance (NI) for the last 2-3 tax years (this also includes National Insurance credits)
Note: Even if you aren’t eligible for new style ESA right now, you may still be able to get National Insurance credits if you are unable to work. These NI credits could then help you qualify for ESA further down the line.
Can a freelancer claim Employment and Support Allowance?
Yes, freelancers are allowed to claim ESA providing you also meet the other conditions. It’s worth noting that if you have a full-time job as well as a self-employed side hustle (i.e., you freelance to supplement your PAYE salary), you can claim ESA but only for one type of income. You won’t be able to claim ESA on both employment and self-employment income at the same time.
How do I apply for ESA?
If you think you qualify for ESA and need support while you’re unable to work, you can apply via the GOV.UK website.
Make sure you’ve got the following to hand:
- National Insurance number
- Bank or building society account number and sort code (yours or somebody else’s if you don’t have your own)
- Your doctor’s name, address and contact details
- A note from your doctor (i.e., a ‘sick note’, ‘fit note’ or a ‘statement of fitness for work’)
- Date your Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) is due to end (if applicable)
Once your application has been submitted, you will then be contacted by phone with next steps.
Can I still work whilst claiming ESA?
You can still work if you are claiming Employment and Support Allowance but only if you:
- Work fewer than 16 hours per week.
- Aren’t earning more than £167 a week.
Any hours you do work will need to be recorded with Jobcentre Plus.
Can you get ESA alongside other benefits?
You may be able to claim some benefits whilst claiming the Employment and Support Allowance, but others will not be available during the claim period.
In most cases, you are able to claim Personal Independent Payments (PIP) and Universal Credit at the same time as new style ESA.
Some people choose to get ESA instead of Universal Credit because the payments are more frequent (every 2 weeks rather than monthly), while others choose to claim both.
If you do choose to claim ESA and Universal Credit simultaneously (and are eligible to do so), your Universal Credit allowance will be reduced by whatever you receive through ESA.
You cannot normally claim ESA alongside Jobseekers Allowance (JSA), Income Support or Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). Of course, SSP only applies to freelancers that are also in employment and paid through the PAYE system.
If you are a freelancer who is also in employment, it’s worth noting that you can apply for new style ESA up to 3 months before your SSP is due to finish. ESA will simply replace your Statutory Sick Pay once that comes to an end.
What else can I do?
Being off sick is never easy, especially if your only source of income is the money you make working for yourself. The way that ESA is structured can mean that it’s not that useful for shorter absences, so lots of self-employed freelancers build potential absences into their pricing structure.
Consider what time off you might need over the year for much-needed holidays or for short-term sickness, and factor this in to your fees so that there’s more of a buffer if anything does happen.