What is the Work Capability Assessment?
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) uses a test called the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) to decide if you can get Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) – the WCA has two parts. The first is to fill in a health questionnaire called an ESA50, then you will be asked to go along to a face-to-face assessment.
The WCA process can take at least 13 weeks, and this stage is called the ‘assessment phase’. During this time, you have to send the DWP ‘fit notes’ from your GP saying that you are not well enough to work. If your fit note runs out before the DWP makes a decision about your claim, you will have to get a new one, otherwise your benefit will stop.
After your claim begins, you will get an ESA50 form in the post. This is a questionnaire that asks how your illness makes it harder for you to work. You can read more detailed information about the ESA50 questionnaire in our Work Capability Assessment section.
There is a letter with the form that tells you when you have to send it back to the DWP, but you must inform the DWP if you can’t complete the form by that date, and why you need more time.
A benefits adviser could help with your application.
You can get supporting medical evidence from a health professional such as a doctor. Although you don’t have to do this, it can help show the DWP that you are not fit to work.
Ask someone who knows you well in the NHS or social services to write a letter to the DWP to support your claim. This could be your GP, Community Psychiatric Nurse (CPN), Psychiatrist, Social Worker or Support Worker.
Ask someone who knows you well in the NHS or social services to write a letter to the DWP to support your claim.
The DWP must look at any supporting evidence you give them as they can use this to help them make a decision. Send copies of your evidence and keep the originals somewhere safe, attaching it to the ESA50 or sending it separately if you need to.
The evidence can explain not only how your condition makes it harder for you to work but what would happen to your health if you had to start looking for work, and how you meet the criteria for ESA – a letter that simply states your diagnosis or your symptoms are won’t suffice.
Remember to write the following information on any paperwork you send:
- National Insurance number
- Claim number, if you know it.
At your medical assessment, you will see a health professional such as a Nurse, Physiotherapist, Occupational Therapist or a Doctor, although this is less likely.
At your medical assessment, you will see a health professional such as a Nurse, Physiotherapist, Occupational Therapist or a Doctor.
If you want to speak to an expert in mental health, make this clear when you fill in the ESA50. This isn’t guaranteed to happen, but the DWP will take it into account.
The health professional will ask you questions about your health and write a report based on what you say – once the DWP have the information they need, they will decide whether you can get ESA.
In rare cases, the DWP might decide that you meet the criteria for ESA based on just the ESA50 and your medical evidence and in which case, you will not need to go for a medical assessment.