ESA and UC: components axed

01 April 2017
Issue 257 (April 2017)

The employment and support allowance (ESA) component for work-related activity and the universal credit (UC) element for limited capability for work have been abolished from 3 April 2017. Simon Osborne describes the rules, including who can still be entitled.


Before 3 April, ESA paid after the assessment phase included, in all cases, one of two components: the ‘work-related activity component’ (WRAC) or the ‘support component’. The WRAC was applied unless the claimant was assessed as having ‘limited capability for work-related activity’ – ie, was placed in the support group.

In UC, a similar division applied, except that instead of components claimants were entitled to one of two additional ‘elements’. The element for those just with limited capability for work (ie, not in the support group) was the ‘limited capability for work element’ (LCWE).

From 3 April, the WRAC and the LCWE are abolished for new claimants.1

From 3 April 2017

The effect is that from 3 April, unless placed in the support group, a new claimant’s ESA or UC may well only be comprised of a personal (or, for UC, ‘standard’) allowance. So, although sick, her/his benefit entitlement could be the same as it would be on jobseeker’s allowance.

In 2016/17, the WRAC/LCWE was worth about £29 a week. As will be seen below, transitional protection rules mean that current claimants entitled to the WRAC/LCWE before 3 April will not lose out. But, relatively speaking, new claimants may well be £29 a week worse off. The official policy context is one of additional ‘employment support’ to ‘help claimants return to work and support the government’s commitment to halve the disability employment gap’. The DWP estimates that around 55,000 new claimants will be affected in 2017/18, rising to 190,000 by 2020/21.2

What has gone and what remains

Subject to transitional protection, from 3 April 2017, ESA does not include a WRAC and UC does not include a LCWE.

For those claimants assessed as being in the support group, the support component in ESA and the ‘limited capability for work-related activity’ element in UC remain payable.

Claimants not able to get the WRAC or LCWE may still be eligible for additional premiums in income-related ESA or elements in UC. For example, in income-related ESA, a claimant not entitled to the WRAC may still be entitled to a severe disability premium, and in UC a claimant not entitled to the LCWE may still be entitled to child elements.

Note that although the WRAC/LCWE have been abolished, the conditionality associated with those elements (ie, for those often described as being in the ‘work-related activity group’) has not. So an ESA claimant not entitled to a WRAC (ie, because s/he is a new claimant from 3 April and not in the support group) may still be required to attend work-focused interviews and undertake work-related activity. A UC claimant not entitled (for the same reasons) to the LCWE may still be subject to work-focused interview and work preparation requirements. In short, although the work-related activity component has gone for new claimants, the work-related activity group has not. Indeed, amended rules in other benefits, in removing reference to the component, substitute references to being a ‘member of the work-related activity group’.3

Who is still entitled

Transitional protection rules ensure that certain claimants are still able to get the WRAC or the LCWE after 3 April.4 In a nutshell, such claimants are those who can trace their current entitlement to before 3 April. The rules differ slightly between ESA and UC, mainly because ESA can only be paid on the basis of limited capability for work, whereas UC can be paid to those with and without limited capability for work.

Employment and support allowance – transitional protection

ESA claimants who can still get the WRAC are those who:

  • made a claim for ESA before 3 April 2017 and have a current award from that claim (even where this was only after mandatory reconsideration or appeal, or who were originally in the support group);
  • have their claim backdated to before 3 April 2017 and whose current award begins before that date;
  • are reclaiming and whose period of limited capability for work is linked to an earlier such period which began before 3 April 2017, including where the assessment phase had begun but not ended – ie, who re-establish a pre-3 April entitlement to ESA within 12 weeks;
  • are transferred to ESA from incapacity benefit (IB), severe disablement allowance (SDA) or income support (IS) (including where they are initially placed in the support group);
  • were entitled to maternity allowance which followed entitlement to ESA from before 3 April 2017, and are entitled to ESA again within 12 weeks of the maternity allowance ending.

Universal credit – transitional protection

UC claimants who can still get the LCWE are those who are entitled to UC, have limited capability for work and who:

  • had the LCWE included in their UC award immediately before 3 April 2017;
  • had the limited capability for work-related activity element included in their UC award immediately before 3 April 2017 – ie, were in the support group;
  • on or after 3 April 2017, are accepted as having limited capability for work for UC purposes from before 3 April;
  • are found on revision or appeal to have been entitled to ESA before 3 April 2017 and their UC is changed to reflect that on or after 3 April;
  • were entitled to ESA (or credits for limited capability for work) immediately before 3 April and remained so until they claimed UC;
  • were entitled to IS for incapacity or disability, IB or SDA (or credits for incapacity for work) immediately before 3 April 2017 and remained so until they claimed UC.

Please be aware that welfare rights law and guidance change frequently. Older Bulletin articles may be out of date. Use keywords or the search function to find more recent material on this topic.

  • 1. The Employment and Support Allowance and Universal Credit (Miscellaneous Amendments and Transitional and Savings Provisions) Regulations 2017, No.204 (the ‘Amendment Regulations’)
  • 2. Explanatory Memorandum to the Amendment Regulations
  • 3. See Schedule 1 to the Amendment Regulations
  • 4. See Schedule 2 to the Amendment Regulations