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Need help with your ESA application? Try these 8 essential tips Main Image

Need help with your ESA application? Try these 8 essential tips

Wed 15 Mar 2017

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is a benefit paid to people whose disability has affected their ability to work. We've put together a list of top tips to consider when making a claim.



In order to claim ESA, people must take part in the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), which requires the completion of a detailed application form as well as, in many cases, a face-to-face assessment with an independent medical advisor. During the process, a claimant is scored against a number of 'descriptors', which when taken together are intended to judge their ability to work.

The WCA has proved controversial, with issues in the assessment process, particularly for complex conditions such as brain injury, leaving many people without the support they are entitled to. While there is no way to avoid difficulties arising in all cases, many people do claim the benefit successfully. By getting as much information as possible to the assessors you can increase the chances of them making the right decision first time.

Top tips

We've put together a list of top tips to consider when making a claim for ESA:

Get support

It is difficult to explain the complex issues caused by brain injury at any time, but this is particularly the case on a form or during a short assessment interview. Seek support to help you complete the form and go through any face-to-face assessments. Visit our Support with claims and appeals page for more details.

Provide as much information as possible 

The descriptors used in the assessment process are very tightly defined. It is therefore important that you try to give as much information and evidence as possible. Try to give specific examples of how your condition affects you or when things have gone wrong.

Send supporting evidence

Supporting evidence is always better where it is specific and relates to the activities used in the assessment. A general letter from your GP saying something like “I agree that Mr Jones remains unfit for work” will unfortunately not be given much weight. On the other hand, a letter from a specialist explaining how your condition impacts on your daily activities is likely to be stronger evidence.

Consider your answers carefully

Only tick the ‘No difficulty’ box if you are sure that NONE of the descriptors apply to you. Be very careful about ticking the ‘It varies’ box, as you are likely to be treated as if you have no problems in this area.

Consider and explain the effects of any medication you are on

This could have an important bearing on your ability to work.

Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself

There will be an overlap between many of the activities, particularly in the area of mental health. If this is the case, you need to keep repeating yourself on the form. Don’t assume because you have put something down for one activity, it will automatically be considered for the others.

Use our guide

Our factsheet The Work Capability Assessment and completing the ESA50 form provides a wealth of information to help you through the process. It includes a step-by-step guide to completing the form for people with brain injury, as well as information to help you prepare for a face-to-face assessment. You can download the factsheet in our information library or at the bottom of this page.

Keep a copy of the completed form with a note of the date on which you sent it off

Read it over before you go for your face-to-face assessment or make any applications for other benefits.

Find out more

Our A guide to welfare benefits after brain injury booklet gives more information on the support you may be entitled to. It also provides further details on issues such as the benefit cap and making an appeal. You can download the booklet in the information library or at the bottom of this page.

Many Headway groups and branches can offer support with benefits-related issues, and you can call our helpline to discuss your situation in confidence. 



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Headway - the brain injury association is registered with the Charity Commission for England and Wales (Charity no. 1025852) and the Office of the Scottish Regulator (Charity no. SC 039992). Headway is a company limited by guarantee, registered in England no. 2346893.

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