5. Benefits if unable to work

Statutory sick pay

This is paid by employers to employees below retirement age, for up to 28 weeks in any one period of sickness. To qualify, you must earn a set amount or more each week before tax and must be off work because of sickness. This benefit is paid at a flat rate and is taxable.

Employment and support allowance (ESA)

In October 2008 a new benefit was created called Employment and support allowance (ESA). It has two forms - contributory ESA (which replaced Incapacity benefit) and income-related ESA (which replaced Income support claimed on the grounds of incapacity for work). People with Incapacity benefit or Income support on the grounds of incapacity for work are being transferred to Employment and support allowance.

You can still receive Income support if you qualify on grounds other than incapacity - see 'Income support' below.

ESA may be claimed by people who are under the State pension age for women (see 'State pension' below) who have a limited capacity to work because of an illness or a disability.

A work capability assessment will take place within the assessment phase (the first 13 weeks) that follows your initial claim for ESA. The first part of this work capability assessment will decide if 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 undertake work-related activity (such as training courses or voluntary work) then you will be categorised in the 'support group'. Otherwise you will be placed in the 'work-related activity group'. If you are put in the support group, you will receive a higher level of ESA. If you are put into the 'work-related activity 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.

Normally, you need to have paid enough National insurance to be eligible for contributory 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 tops up the amount of money you have to a minimum level that you need to live off, and it is means-tested in a similar way to the previous Income support benefit. You can receive income-related ESA on its own or at the same time as contributory ESA and it can help with mortgage interest payments and some other housing costs.

The amount of ESA that will be paid is determined through a fairly complicated set of requirements. The money you will 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.

Both types of ESA are paid at a lower rate for the initial 13-week assessment period. Then for people who are still entitled, payment continues at the determined rate. People eligible for income-related ESA may also be entitled to other benefits such as help with housing costs and prescriptions.

Between October 2013 and October 2019 the new 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.