ESA support group mental health (A guide)

ESA support group mental health
Juanita Agboola

Juanita Agboola is the editor in chief of HFNE and an expert in mental health online. She has been writing about online behaviour, mental health and psychology issues since 2012. All Guides are reviewed by our editorial team which constitutes various clinical psychologists, PhD and PsyD colleagues.

ESA support group mental health (A complete guide)

In this blog, we will discuss ESA support group mental health, what it is, how to claim, eligibility, what are the groups of ESA and some considerations. 

Table of Contents

ESA support group mental health

ESA support group mental health is just one of the three decisions the DWP can make about your ESA claim and they can decide, according to the mentalhealthandmoneyadvice.org:

  • To give you ESA and put you into the Work-Related Activity Group (WRAG).
  • To give you ESA and put you into the Support Group.
  • That you are fit for work and should not get ESA.

Work-Related Activity Group (WRAG)

In the Work-Related Activity Group, you will have to go to at least one work-focused interview, you may have to take part in the Work Programme, you will get less money than if you are in the support group and you can only get contribution-based ESA for one year. 

Being out into this group means the DWP decided that your disability or your condition does not limit your ability to work right now, but there are measures that can be taken to improve your work opportunities.

You will not be required to look for work but the DWP may invite you for work focussed interviews where you will undertake work-related activities that they hope will improve your ability to get back to work sooner rather than later.

According to citizensadvice.org.uk, these activities are things that the DWP thinks will improve your chances of working in the future.

There are some cases and scenarios where you will not have to attend any work-related interviews and partake in any work-related activities. These are for example:

  • you’re a single parent with a child under one-year-old
  • you’ve reached Pension Credit age

You can check if you’ve reached Pension Credit age by using the calculator on GOV.UK.

ESA support group mental health (A guide)

Work-focused interviews

If you are part of the work-related activity group, you will be asked to go to a work-focused interview with a personal adviser at the Jobcentre. 

Your personal advisor will try to get a better comprehension and understanding of your abilities, your particular situation, and your limitations when interviewing you. 

They will identify what you can already do, what you might be able to do in the future and what help you would need to be able to go to work.

In order to identify this, they will ask you about your work history and qualifications, the steps you could take that might help you to eventually be able to work and any practical support that will be available to you.

While you’re getting ESA in the work-related activity group, you might have to go to more work-focused interviews like this.

Work-related activities

According to citizensadvice.org.uk, if you are part of this group, you are going to be expected to take part in the work-related activity unless:

  • you’re a carer getting Carer’s Allowance or a carer premium as part of your ESA claim
  • you’re a single parent with a child under 3 – if you’re a single parent with a child between 3 and 13, you will have to do work-related activities, but only during normal school hours
  • you’ve reached Pension Credit age

It is important to consider that your ESA can be reduced temporarily if you miss a work-focused interview or an agreed work-related activity. If you indeed need to miss an interview or activity, it needs to be for a good reason. For instance, if you are sick or at the hospital then you need to tell your adviser as soon as possible.

There are numerous safeguards in place to ensure any sanctions are fair and reflect the situations on the ground. For example, you will usually be visited before any sanctions are placed on you. This ensures the system is fair and takes into account the struggles of those living with mental health conditions.

Support Group

In the support group, you do not have to go to interviews or take part in the Work Programme, additionally, if you receive contribution-based ESA, you can get it as long as you meet the criteria for the support group. Also, you will get an additional amount of money on top of the basic ESA rate from the 14th week of your claim. If it takes the DWP longer than this to decide which group to put you in, they will backdate the money.

If you’ve been put in the support group, it means the DWP has decided that you can’t work and that it doesn’t expect you to do anything to improve your chances of finding work.

However, if you’re in this group and decide that you want to take part in the work-related activity anyway, you can do it. Use the contact details on your decision letter to let the DWP know you want to do this. They’ll let you know if there’s any suitable work-related activity going on in your area that you can join.

What is the target group for Employment and Support Allowance?

Employment and Support Allowance is aimed at people whose capacity for work is limited by a physical or mental condition and the limitation is such that it is unreasonable to require them to work.

When you apply for ESA you will be placed into one of two ESA support groups for mental health. 

The work-related activity group or the ESA support group for mental health

Once your application for ESA support has been considered by the department of works and pensions you will usually get a letter from the DWP stating which  ESA support group for mental health you will be placed in. The decision on which ESA support group for mental health you will be placed in will be based mostly around what you have filled in the capability for work questionnaire (ESA50 form) and the results of your medical assessment.

If you think you’ve been put into the wrong ESA support group then you can ask the Department of works and pensions to reconsider their decision. This is called ‘mandatory reconsideration’.

ESA support group mental health (A guide)

What sort of activities will you do in the work-related ESA group?

Some of the activities you will be expected to do whilst you are at the work-related ESA group will include the below:

  • basic skills for maths or writing
  • confidence-building sessions
  • learning how to produce a CV
  • new ways to manage your condition or disability

All of these work-related activities are activities which the DWP thinks will give you a greater chance of getting back to work sooner.

ESA support group mental health (A guide)

The ESA support group for mental health

The second ESA support group for mental health will have no interviews or activities. This ESA support group for mental health is for people with the most severe mental health conditions who can not work. 

It will be unreasonable to require people in this ESA support group for mental health to work whilst they claim ESA. People in this ESA support group for mental health will have periodic medical assessment reviews which are usually every three years at a maximum. This is done to see if their condition has improved and they can now resume work. 

In most cases, people will lose these reviews and have to win an ESA appeal for anxiety or an ESA appeal for depression or whatever mental health illness they have in order to go back on to receiving ESA. 

In some cases, medical conditions of people claiming ESA can improve with certain treatment and they may genuinely be able to o back to work whilst in other cases their medical conditions may have declined.  

Depending on the outcome of your medical assessment you could then be removed from the  ESA support group for mental health which required you to not attend any interviews or meetings and be placed in the work-related  ESA support group for mental health or vice versa.

If you have been put in the ESA support group for mental health and you want to participate in a work-related activity which the work-related activity group will be undertaking then you can ask the Department of Work and pensions to make this possible for you by letting them know of your intentions. 

ESA support group mental health (A guide)

You can do this by using the contact details on your DWP decision letter and writing back to them informing them that you want to join work-related activities in your region even though you are in an ESA support group for mental health. The DWP will usually let you know if there are any suitable work-related activities within the region you are in which you can join.

Because the employment and support allowance focuses on the people who need the most resources hence the most severely disabled people, most of the people who claim employment and support allowance can be nearly £17 week better off than if they would have claimed incapacity benefits.

Will how much you get depends on your ESA group?

Yes, it may, the mental health and money advice website states “There’s a chance that you may receive an extra amount in your ESA, depending on which of the two ESA groups you are in and the date you claimed:

Work-Related Activity Group if you claimed before 3rd April 2017, you will get an extra amount of £29.05 per week, but if you claimed after 3rd April 2017, you will only get the basic rate and no extra amount.

Support group – you will get an extra amount of £38.55 a week.   “

Enhanced Disability Premium

The mental health and money advice website also state, “If you are in the support group or if you receive any of the following, you will receive the enhanced disability premium, which equates to an extra £16.80 per week:

Disability Living Allowance (high rate care component),

Personal Independence Payment (enhanced daily living component), or

Armed Forces Independence Payment.”

If you are suffering from depression, anxiety, loneliness or any similar mental health issue then seeking help for it may be a good option. Mental health issues such as depression, loneliness and anxiety can affect anyone of us.

If you are under 18 then CAMHS, an NHS run program may just be the answer for your mental health struggles.

You should look to see if you meet the CAMHS referral criteria and then fill in the CAMHS referral form.

Work Capability Assessment and medical evidence

Employment and Support Allowance requires customers to attend a medical assessment, this is really nothing new since similar procedures were already in place for Incapacity Benefit. But why is it really needed? Well, the WCA provides the assessment of an individual’s eligibility for ESA based on what they can do rather than what they cannot do.

According to communities-ni.gov.uk, “While the criteria used for Incapacity Benefit, the personal capability assessment, provided a robust evaluation, it focused on what a person is incapable of doing. Developed in 1995, it has become out-dated in relation to the modern workplace, developments in medical therapy and the conditions prevalent in society today.”

It is considered that the WCA provides a more robust and accurate assessment, and the means to identify people with severe health conditions who are not expected to get a job or return to work providing the support they require. What changes basically is that there is the identification of people who are capable of taking part in the work-related activity and the support and interventions required to help them get back to work.

In addition, it identifies people who are limited by their illness or disability and who are not required or expected to undertake any form of work-related activity in the immediate future.

Everyone that applies needs to attend medical assessment?

Most new individuals that have submitted the claim are required to attend an assessment and when possible, a decision will be made using documentary evidence for those with the most severe illnesses and disabilities who in the end will be more likely going to be added to the Support Group.

Why are General Practitioners required to provide medical certificates and reports for patients?

The current General Practitioner contract indicates under the terms that they are required to provide these documents and to do so as soon as possible. In addition, the professionals that are carrying out assessments are specially trained in assessing and determining the effects a condition has on a person’s functional ability. They do not need expert knowledge of the condition to do this competently; their expertise lies in disability analysis.

What happens if you don’t attend your assessment?

According to communities-ni.gov.uk, “If a customer fails to attend an appointment for a medical assessment, we will write to them and ask for their reasons for not attending. Their reply is considered by a Decision Maker, who may decide that the customer has shown good cause for not attending and refer the case for a new appointment; if the Decision Maker takes the view that good cause has not been shown, ESA will be disallowed and benefit stopped.”

Why is there no disability premium in Employment and Support Allowance when it remains in other benefits?

ESA is not equal or structured the same as the old incapacity benefits of incapacity benefit and income support. In the new allowance, there is no concept of a disability premium, but this doesn’t mean the new allowance is leaving out or is not considering the needs of people with disabilities; instead, it takes account of these needs in a different way. 

According to communities-ni.gov.uk, “Other benefits do not include work-related activity or support components. We believe that those capable of some form of work-related activity will benefit from, and have a responsibility to engage in undertaking work-focused interviews and this concept is reflected in the benefit structure.”

Is the WCA making it harder for people to get the benefit?

The WCA descriptors are not meant to make it harder for people to be allowed to this benefit. Instead, “it ensures that this assessment remains relevant to today’s environment, which has seen changes in the prevalence of disabling conditions, advances in medical interventions available, and changes in the tasks and activities employers expect their workforce to be able to carry out.”

The idea is to create a fair and more accurate assessment for individuals entitled to the benefit. This will allow being more accurate when identifying those who are limited or have a limited capability for work because of a physical or mental condition.

This assessment is designed to be able to provide a comprehensive approach to an individual’s mental, cognitive and intellectual functions, by using more descriptors addressing a wider range of functions. The scoring system has also been adjusted to remove the perceived bias in the WCA against people with mental health problems as opposed to the limitation of physical function.

Why have many of the current descriptors been changed?

“The activities that employers expect of their workforce have changed. Those descriptors not relevant to customers’ ability to work have been dropped and, where gaps have been identified, new descriptors have been added. In relation to mental health, the new approach of the assessment takes better account of the needs of people with conditions like learning disabilities (communities-ni.gov.uk).”

In addition, they have stated how “Work was undertaken with medical experts in re-focusing descriptors and scores to identify more accurately the overall functional limitation at which it is unreasonable to expect a person to engage in work. People with a mental health problem may not be able to comply with the need to provide information.”

Is there a penalty?

People with a mental health condition may have a hard time complying so before a sanction is applied, every effort will be made to contact customers and make sure they understand what is required of them. An individual with a mental health illness, would not be sanctioned right away. There will be a prior contact to them ot their carer or health care professional, to ensure they understand what is required of them.

Making claim/contact by phone

This is considered the most effective method to start the claim and therefore, it can ensure customers obtain the benefit most appropriate to them and that it is paid promptly.

The idea is that a member of staff will assist and guide the customer throughout the process helping to determine if ESA is the most appropriate benefit for the customer in question, providing advice if required and sign-post the customer to any secondary benefits they may be entitled to.

The staff member will also inform the customer of any evidence they must provide before their claim can be processed (providing clarification if required).

The individual is also given the opportunity to make a claim for both contribution and income-related parts and there has been a significant number who have claimed both parts since ESA was introduced.

What arrangements are there in place to ensure that customers do not lose benefit because they have difficulty getting through? 

These circumstances are protected by Law. “A claim may be accepted covering a period up to three months before the date on which a customer notifies the Department of their intention to claim the benefit, as long as they can provide medical evidence to support the claim.”

The ESA Centre does not call customers back, Why?

Customers can request a call back by leaving their details that will be recorded on a priority case list, which is used to manage return calls to customers. Once on this list, a call will be made as soon as a manager is available.

Why is there a delay between making a claim and getting payment? 

It needs to be considered that there is a substantial amount of people under the impression that as soon as they make their claim, they will start getting paid immediately. 

However, it is important to be aware that it is required for the customer to issue the evidence or required documentation, for example, medical evidence, bank statements, P45/P60s, pension details. 

According to communities-ni.gov.uk, “Customers are reminded about their responsibility to provide outstanding evidence at several points during the claim-take process- during the initial telephony claim-take, in their customer statement and, if the information is still outstanding 14 days after the claim has been received, a reminder letter is issued to the customer. The responsibility to provide outstanding evidence lies with the customer. The claim is made defective unless the Department is provided with all the information required to determine the claim.”

What protection is there for customers who are in financial distress? 

If you are in financial distress, you can apply for a crisis loan from the Social Fund and in addition, an interim payment of ESA can be considered pending the determination of entitlement.

Why does the Department close an ESA claim if a customer cannot be contacted by telephone?

If you are required to submit additional evidence or documents to support your claim, you have one month to supply this evidence. If it is not received one month at least two further requests for the information will be made. 

After not receiving the evidence required during the time stipulated, one-month period consideration will be given to closing the claim. A claim will only be closed if there is insufficient evidence available to make a decision on entitlement to benefit. The same rules apply to customers claiming Income Support.

Why is this blog about ESA support group mental health important?

This port about ESA support group mental health is very important because it provides most (if not all) the information required to know if you are eligible to participate in this group or the other groups. 

It is important to read carefully all the information and ask for assistance when required to make sure a claim is going to get processed and accepted and the DWP can actually assign you to the correct group depending on the assessment of how does your disability or mental illness affect your life. 

Please feel free to comment in the comments section below!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about ESA support group mental health

How long does ESA support group last?

If you are in the ESA support group or getting income-related ESA, your claim will be ongoing. The DWP will assess your ability to work again every 1, 2 or 3 years to make syre you are still not fit to work.

Can you claim ESA for mental health?

You can claim ESA for mental health is you can’t work because of your illness. There are 2 types of ESA: the contribution based and income related. Your GP needs to give you a “fit note” that says you are unwell so you can claim ESA. In addition, the DWP will ask you to fill out a form answering some questions about your health. 

How many points do you need to be in the support group for ESA?

You don’t need points to go to the support group for ESA. However, there are two parts to the work capability assessment. The first part scores points and 15 points will get you WRAG. The second part is 16 questions and if you answer “yes” to any of the questions then you will get awarded support group.

What does ESA support group mean?

ESA support group is for those who the DWP consider they have a severe health condition that will prevent them from being able to undertake a job or work-related activities.

What are the benefits of a support group? 

Some of the benefits of participating in the support group include feeling less lonely, isolated or judged, gaining a sense of empowerment and control, improving your coping skills and sense of adjustment, talking openly and honestly about your feelings and reducing distress, depression, anxiety or fatigue (medium.com). 

References

Mentalhealthandmoneyadvice.org/en/welfare-benefits/am-i-eligible-for-employment-support-allowance-esa/what-is-esa/

Citizensadvice.org.uk/benefits/sick-or-disabled-people-and-carers/employment-and-support-allowance/while-youre-getting-esa/about-the-esa-groups/

Healthassured.org/blog/employment-and-support-allowance-esa-assessment/

Communities-ni.gov.uk/articles/questions-and-answers-employment-and-support-allowance-advisers

ESA support group mental health (A guide)