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‘My Employment and Support Allowance has ended - help!’
> ‘I've been found fit for work and my ESA has ended’
>> ‘Please explain how the Work Capability Assessment rules work’

To make this simple I am only going to look at the rules about Limited Capability for Work here, i.e. the ones that decide whether you are entitled to Employment and Support Allowance at all.

If you want to know about the rules for being put in the ‘support group’ click here.

icon-warning1.jpgThis web page will fit most people’s circumstances but there are extra complications in some situations. If you want to know about these unusual situations you may need to see further advice.


If you’re reading this because you’ve just been refused, chances are that you’ll already have worked out that ‘points’ are involved. Here’s how it works…

It’s important to remember that the government doesn’t ever talk about you being ‘unfit for work’: instead, it says you ‘have a limited capability for work’, by which they mean that they think that your ability to do work is limited by illness or by disability.

For the Jobcentre Plus to decide that you do have limited capability for work you will normally need to get 15 points or more (I’ll give two important exceptions below). These get totted up from a list of different activities. Some of these activities are physical, like sitting, standing, using your hands, and controlling your bladder and bowels. Some of these activities relate to mental health problems and learning difficulties (yes, I know they’re two different things!) like concentrating, coping with change, and interacting with other people.

For each activity there are a choice of different descriptors. These describe different amounts of difficulty. Jobcentre Plus will choose which ONE of these descriptors and apply it to you.

The full list is here but now let’s just look at one activity as an example: picking up and moving things…

(1) Activity
(2) Descriptors
(3) Points
4. Picking up and moving or transferring by the use of the upper body and arms.
(a) Cannot pick up and move a 0.5 litre carton full of liquid.

(b) Cannot pick up and move a one litre carton full of liquid.

(c) Cannot transfer a light but bulky object such as an empty cardboard box.

(d) None of the above applies.


A few things to note:

Normally if you get less than 15 points, it’s bad news…

But sometimes, even if you don’t get 15 points, you should still be treated as having a limited capability for work. These are called exceptional circumstances.

There are just two exceptional circumstances that can be considered. Here they are:
  1. You have a life threatening disease, and there is medical evidence that it’s not under control, and that, realistically, there’s no way it could be controlled in your case;
  2. Because of a disability or illness that you have, there would be a ‘substantial risk’ to anyone’s physical or mental health if you had to work or look for work. Note that this isn’t just about a risk to you; it could be a risk to someone else

Here’s two examples to give you an idea of what might apply


  • Jane has advanced cirrhosis of the liver. Initially the effects could be controlled with medication but it’s now passed that stage and all attempts by her GP and the hospital have failed. She may be treated as having limited capability for work even if she doesn’t score 15 points
  • Albert has schizophrenia with paranoid tendencies. However he is receiving treatment and is also learning to manage his condition. Even so, there are occasions when he gets really aggressive for no reason, and when this happens it not just him whose at risk: other people could be at risk too. Also, importantly, he is more likely to have an episode if he is under stress, for example if he is working or having to look for work. Even if he doesn’t score 15 points, he should still probably be treated as having limited capability for work.