2. Employment and Support Allowance

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) looks at a client’s ability to work. There are two possible levels of ESA; WRAG and Support Group.

ESA Eligibility

The Work-Related Activity Group
Claimants are placed in the WRAG when they are found to have Limited Capability for Work (LCW).
*Unless original claim predates April 2017
The Support Group
Claimants are placed in the Support Group when they are found to have Limited Capability for Work-Related Activity (LCWRA). It is a two part test – they first have to be found to have LCW, and then it is considered whether they also have LCWRA.

Physical Descriptors

  • Mobilising
  • Reaching
  • Manual dexterity
  • Understanding communication
  • Absence or loss of control of bowel and/or bladder
  • Standing and sitting
  • Picking up and moving things
  • Making yourself understood
  • Navigation and maintaining safety
  • Consciousness during waking moments
http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2008/794/schedule/2/made (always check the latest revised edition)

Mental and cognitive descriptors

  • Learning tasks
  • Initiating and completing personal action
  • Getting about
  • Appropriateness of behaviour with other people
  • Awareness of everyday hazards
  • Coping with change
  • Coping with social engagement

How to analyse each descriptor


Decision makes need to look at whether a client can do each activity reasonably repeatedly. This means that if a client is able to complete an activity but as a result is unable to do it again for a long time (due to pain or physical exertion) then this needs to be mentioned. 

Fluctuating conditions

If symptoms vary from day to day we need to help the client look at frequency: does the descriptor apply more than half the time? Symptoms must apply for the majority of the time, or the majority of the time an activity is attempted, to be counted.


Yes? No? It varies?

We recommend you never tick the “it varies” box against any activity. The box is misleading and confusing – it is better to consider the ”majority of the time” parameter, and if something does occur the majority of the time, to tick yes and describe how often it occurs in the explanation box. It can be difficult for clients to estimate how often symptoms occur. Having a conversation about ’good’ and ’bad’ days, and how many ‘bad’ days they have per week or per month may be a good place to start.

Also take into account:

  • the effects of any medication that the claimant takes, e.g. drowsiness
  • any aid the claimant might normally or could reasonably be expected to use, e.g. a walking stick or glasses.

Descriptors to be aware of

Beware of these common misinterpretations of the descriptors:

Activity 1 – Mobilising

Must be considered unaided by another person with or without use of walking stick, manual wheelchair or other aid if normally or could reasonably be used

Activity 6 – Making self understood

Problems with English are not covered

Activity 10 – Loss of consciousness

Dizziness does not count for this activity, nor panic attacks.

Activity 13 – Personal Action

Think about common things that the client might do, such as washing or making a shopping list

Other information: regulations 29 and 35

These describe “exceptional circumstances” when a claimant may be found to have LCW or LCWRA, even if they don’t meet the descriptors from Schedule 2 or 3.

The regulations describe the test as:

“the claimant suffers from some specific disease or bodily or mental disablement; and by reasons of such disease or disablement, there would be a substantial risk to the mental or physical health of any person if the claimant were found not to have limited capability for work/ work-related activity.”

Four situations in which finding a claimant does not have LCW may pose a substantial risk to health include:

  • the mere communication of the decision;
  • the consequences of having to sign on for jobseeker’s allowance;
  • having to perform the sort of work the claimant could be expected to get;
  • traveling to work.

Because the threshold to meet the descriptors is so high, Regulations 29 and 35 are being used more and more often, especially with regard to impairments caused by mental illness. Reg. 35 is now responsible for half of Support group placements.

Potential examples (non-exhaustive):

  • Does your client have a mental illness that would be made worse? Double check if there is any suicide risk and mention if so.
  • Does your client have problems with substance misuse? Would their recovery be at risk?
  • Does your client need to restrict liquid intake in order to take journeys? That would damage their health if they had to do so everyday.

There is not a specific box for “exceptional circumstances”, so we would advise writing any comments about these questions asked in the “other information” box on the form. 

Last updated on February 20th, 2019 at 04:10 pm