Welfare benefits

Benefits for people unable to work

There are 2 types of benefits that you could be eligible for if you cannot work because of your illness – Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). SSP is for absences from work up to 28 weeks and ESA is for longer term absences or where SSP is not payable.

On this page:

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)

If you are too ill to work, your employer will pay you SSP for up to 28 weeks.

To be eligible you must:

Once SSP ends, if you’re still too sick to return to work, you may be eligible for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) can be paid if you’re too ill to work. You must go to a Work Capability Assessment while your ESA is being assessed.

There are 3 types of ESA:

  • new style, if you're entitled to claim Universal Credit
  • contributory ESA, which will depend on your National Insurance contributions
  • income-related ESA, which is the means-tested element. It can depend on how much household income you have.

Your capability to work should be assessed in the first 13 weeks of your claim for ESA. Usually you will have to travel to a centre to be assessed. After this assessment, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will place you in:

  • the work-related activity group, where you will be expected to try to find employment and have regular interviews with an adviser
  • the support group, where you will not be expected to look for employment as your illness or disability has a severe effect on your ability to work. The support group pays an extra amount on top of the basic rate of ESA.

If the DWP decides you are fit to work straightaway they can advise you to apply for Job Seekers Allowance (JSA). By doing this you have to declare yourself fit for work. Ask a welfare rights adviser such as Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) about applying for JSA. JSA is broken down into contribution-based and income-based allowance.

For details on how to appeal a decision you're unhappy with, call our helpline on 03000 030 555.

If you spend money on travelling to an assessment centre, you can claim these costs back. Bring your ticket or receipts with you if you travel by bus or train.

You can claim 25p per mile if you come by car – plus parking costs, so bring the parking ticket too. If you want to claim back the fares of anyone who has to travel with you, let the Health Assessment Advisory Service know in advance by calling 0800 288 8777.

Next: Universal credit >

If you have concerns or need advice, call our helpline on 03000 030 555 between 9am and 5pm on a weekday or email them.

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Download our welfare information (PDF, 509KB)

Last medically reviewed: December 2018. Due for review: December 2019

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.