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Due to essential maintenance, the following systems will be unavailable from 6.00pm on Monday 2 October until 8.00am on Tuesday 3 October: our online council tax, business rates and housing benefit services, and our welfare assistance form. You will also not be able to register to pay council tax online, make a change of address for council tax or cancel single person discount. You are still able to make a payment during this time. We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause.

Work capability assessment

The work capability assessment for Universal Credit and Employment Support Allowance.

If you are claiming benefits because your ability to work is restricted by your health condition or disability, you will be assessed by the Department for Work and Pensions under the work capability assessment.

This page explains this assessment and gives tips on how to complete the questionnaire which you will be sent during the first 13 weeks of your claim for Employment Support Allowance or of reporting your illness to Universal Credit.

If you have a terminal illness you are exempt from the Work Capability Assessment. In all other cases you need to complete and send back the medical questionnaire (sometimes called form ESA50 or UC50) otherwise your benefit can be stopped. 

The medical questionnaire asks about the effects that any physical disabilities, mental health problems or learning difficulties have on common activities. Under each of these activities is a list of problems of varying degrees of severity which are called 'descriptors'. The questionnaire asks you to select the descriptors which most closely match your own difficulties. 

A points system is used with each descriptor scoring a fixed number of points between 0 and 15 (the number of points allocated is not shown on the form). To pass the test you need to score 15 points in total from any combination of activities. 

You can read the exact details of all the activities, descriptors and points used in the test here Work Capability Assessment Detailed Guide.

Treated as having limited capability for Work 

You can be 'treated as having limited capability for work' and pass the test without having to score the 15 points if: 

  • you are terminally ill; 
  • you are receiving chemotherapy or radiotherapy for cancer or are recovering from such treatment, or are likely to undergo it in the next 6 months; 
  • you suffer from a specific disease or bodily or mental disablement and there would be a substantial risk to someone's mental or physical health if you weren't found to have limited capability for work; 
  • you have been requested or given notice, under specific legislation, to refrain from work because you are a carrier of, or have been in contact with, an infectious disease; 
  • you are pregnant and there would be a serious risk to your health or your child's if you did not refrain from work; 
  • you are pregnant or have recently given birth but you are not entitled to maternity allowance or statutory maternity pay, from 6 weeks before the baby is due to 2 weeks after; 
  • you have severe problems with eating or drinking as specified in the regulations; 
  • you are receiving treatment as in an-patient in hospital or similar institution for a period of at least 24 hours, or are recovering from such treatment (includes residential drug/alcohol rehab) and the decision maker agrees your condition remains sufficiently serious
  • you have a severe uncontrolled or uncontrollable life-threatening disease, and there is medical evidence to show this. There must be reasonable cause for the disease not to be controlled by a recognisable therapeutic procedure; 
  • you are receiving plasmapheresis or radiotherapy, regular weekly treatment for haemodialysis for chronic renal failure, or regular weekly treatment for total parenteral nutrition for gross impairment of enteric function or are recovering from such treatment. 

Advice on completing the questionnaire (form UC50 or ESA50)

  • Be honest about the extent of your disability or health condition. You should not exaggerate, but neither should you underestimate your problems. 
  • If your condition is variable this should be explained in your own words giving examples. 
  • Explain your abilities when using any aid or appliance you would normally use, such as glasses or walking stick, unless the question says otherwise. 
  • Answer questions thinking of the number of times you could do them in a normal day. For example, if you can only bend down once and not repeatedly during the day.
  • Explain whether performing an activity will cause a risk to your health or if you cannot do it safely
  • Explain if you cannot complete an activity to a reasonable standard or if it takes you more than twice as long as an average person. 
  • If a doctor has told you to avoid certain activities, make this clear. 
  • If a particular task gives you pain or discomfort this should be recorded in detail.

Returning the questionnaire 

Return the questionnaire within 6 weeks of receiving it to avoid your benefit being stopped. If you are late, include a letter explaining your good reasons. 

The assessment

You will usually be offered a medical assessment with a health care professional who will give their opinion on how many points you should score. The appointment can be face to face, but it can also be a telephone appointment or conducted by video. You must attend this medical unless you can show good cause for failing to do so.

Possible outcomes of an assessment

There are three possible outcomes of an assessment:

  • You are assessed as 'fit for work'
  • You are assessed as 'Limited Capability for Work' (in ESA this is called the Work-Related Activity Group')
  • You are assessed as 'Limited Capability for Work-Related Activity' (in ESA this is called the Support Group')

You will only get an additional amount of money in your ESA or Universal Credit if you meet the additional threshold called 'Limited Capability for Work Related Activity or the Support Group. If you pass this test you do not have to do any work-related activity.


If you do not agree with the decision after your assessment, you can ask for a reconsideration within one month. You can do this over the telephone or by letter or on your Universal Credit journal. If you are outside the one month you can ask for a reconsideration if you explain the special circumstances which mean you are late.

If you are not happy with the outcome of the reconsideration you can appeal to an independent tribunal. You must appeal in writing within one month of the date on the new decision letter, or up to thirteen months if there are good reasons. Visit the webpage Disputing a Decision for more details on how to appeal. 

If you live in County Durham, the Welfare Rights Service can advise you about appeals and represent you at a tribunal hearing. 

Contact us
Welfare Rights
03000 268 968
Our address is:
  • Revenues and Benefits
  • PO Box 254
  • Stanley
  • County Durham
  • United Kingdom
  • DH8 1GG