Benefits for people of working age

There may be a number of benefits available to people affected by dementia who are of working age.

Universal credit

Universal credit (UC) is gradually replacing many ‘legacy’ benefits including the means-tested forms of Jobseeker’s allowance and Employment and support allowance, as well as Housing benefit, Income support, Working tax credit and Child tax credit. Some working age benefits will not be included such as Council tax, disability related benefits and benefits based on your National insurance contributions.

Universal credit is administered and managed by the DWP and has many rules that are similar to income support, ESA or housing benefit, such as savings limits, treatment of couples and exemptions from looking for work if claimants are ill or caring.

However, there are some significant changes. UC is paid monthly in arrears and the application process is almost fully online. It can also act as a top-up to wages for people who work. Universal credit includes an element for the claimant (and partner), children and housing costs, as well as extra amounts if you’re considered unfit for work and work-related activity or if you’re a carer.

The introduction of UC only affects people of working age – men and women over State pension age will generally not be affected. However, if you are a couple where one person is under pension age and the other is over pension age, and you need to top up your income, any new claim will now be for UC instead of Pension credit. Those who already receive pension credit will continue to receive it.

If you are already on legacy benefits you will remain on them until you’re invited by the DWP to claim Universal credit. However, if you have a major change of status, such as being found unfit for work when you were previously working or claiming as unemployed, you will be invited to claim UC at that point and your legacy benefits will stop. Getting a benefits check from a local benefits adviser is important – contact Age UK or Citizens Advice (see ‘Other resources’).

Employment and support allowance (ESA)

ESA may be claimed by anyone under the State pension age (see ‘State pension’ ) who has a limited capacity to work because of an illness or a disability. Employment and support allowance (ESA) has two forms – contributory ESA (which replaced Incapacity benefit and which the DWP now refers to as new-style ESA) and income-related ESA (which is means-tested and will eventually be replaced by Universal credit). You could receive Income support or Universal credit if you qualify for benefits on grounds other than incapacity for work (because you are a carer, for example). See ‘Income support’.

Work capability assessment (WCA)

After your initial claim for ESA there will be a work capability assessment to decide how your illness or disability affects your ability to work. The first part of this work capability assessment will look at whether you have a limited capability to work and therefore qualify for ESA. The second part of the assessment will decide what level of work-related activity you can do.

If you can’t do work-related activity (such as training courses or voluntary work) you will be put in the ‘support group’ category, which means you will receive a higher level of ESA. Otherwise you will be placed in the ‘work-related activity group’. If you are put into this group, you will be expected to perform activities such as attending interviews at the job centre about how your condition is and whether you are getting closer to being able to work or look for work.

Eligibility for ESA is reviewed regularly but if you have dementia and have been found eligible for ESA and put into the ‘support group’ you may not have to be reassessed regularly. This is because of changes to the rules for people who are unlikely to be able to re-enter the workforce. Having a diagnosis of dementia does not mean that there will automatically be no review, but the DWP must carefully consider whether a review is necessary.

For more information ask the DWP or Citizens Advice about reviews of ESA (see ‘Other useful organisations’).

What are you entitled to?

Find out the current rate of employment and support allowance

See current rates


You need to have paid enough National insurance to be eligible for contributory new-style ESA, and claims for contributory ESA for people in the ‘work-related activity group’ are limited to 12 months. If you are in the support group, contributory ESA is not restricted to 12 months.

Income-related ESA is means-tested. Your needs are compared with the money you have, such as your income and savings and the amount you receive is worked out from this. You can receive income-related ESA on its own or as a top-up to contributory ESA. However, income-related ESA is being replaced by Universal credit, which can also be an alternative benefit if you can’t get contributory ESA or as a top-up to it.

The amount of ESA you may receive depends on your capacity to work, your past National insurance contributions, how long you have been claiming and whether you are entitled to one or both of the types of payment – income-related and contributory benefits. The payment can be backdated for up to three months and will continue until you are able to work or look for work. It is important to seek advice if you think that you are not getting the right amount of money. For more details see our page on care and mobility benefits.

Both types of ESA are paid at a lower rate for the initial 13-week assessment period. Then if you are still entitled, payment continues at the determined rate. If you’re eligible for income-related ESA or Universal credit you may also be entitled to other benefits such as help with housing costs and prescriptions.

Universal credit is replacing income-related ESA and Income support, in addition to a number of other means-tested benefits for people of working age. ESA paid according to National insurance contributions will continue to be available to those who are eligible for it (see ‘Universal credit’ above).

Statutory sick pay

Statutory sick pay is paid by employers to employees below pension age, for up to 28 weeks in any one period of sickness that lasts for four days or more. To qualify, you must be employed and earn a set amount or more each week before tax (for the current amount see our benefits rates page). Statutory sick pay is paid at a flat rate and is taxable.

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