Ask CPAG Online - What is limited capability and how is it assessed?

This section looks at what limited capability means and how it is assessed. It also looks at when you automatically satisfy the assessment, when you might have to attend a medical, and whether or not you can do any work whilst having limited capability for work.

What is limited capability?

Having ‘limited capability for work’ means that because of your ‘physical or mental condition’

it is ‘not reasonable’ to require you to work. In practice, this means that you are not expected to work or look for work in order to get UC.

If you have severe limitations, you may also be assessed as having ‘limited capability for work-related activity’. Having limited capability for work-related activity means that because of your ‘physical or mental condition’ is ‘not reasonable’ to require you to ‘undertake work-related activity’. So overall you are assessed as having ‘limited capability for work and work-related activity’. In practice, this means that not only are you not expected to work or look for work, but you are not expected to undertake activities like attending work-focused interviews or retraining. In this situation, you are sometimes referred to as being in the ‘support group’ for UC.

If on the other hand, you are assessed as having just limited capability for work (not for work-related activity), you are sometimes referred to as being in the ‘work-related activity group’ for UC.

For more on how your UC is affected, see How does limited capability affect UC?

How is limited capability assessed?

You are assessed under the work capability assessment (WCA). The WCA is used to decide whether or not you have:

  • Limited capability for work; and
  • Limited capability for work-related activity.

For more on the WCA, see What is the WCA? below.

In a few situations, you are ‘treated as’ having limited capability without actually undergoing an assessment under the WCA – see below. Also, there are special rules about limited capability that apply if you transfer from ESA to UC – see What if you transfer from ESA to UC?

When are you treated as having limited capability?

You may be treated as having just limited capability for work or, if you have a certain serious condition or in certain serious circumstances, limited capability for work and work-related activity. In that case, you automatically satisfy the conditions for limited capability and do not have to undergo the WCA.

You are treated as having just limited capability for work, in the following situations (set out in Schedule 8 of the Universal Credit Regulations 2013).

  • You are an in-patient in hospital, or you are recovering from in-patient treatment and the DWP consider that your condition is sufficiently serious.
  • You are pregnant and there is a serious risk to your health or your baby’s health if you do not refrain from work (in this case you are likely also to be treated as having limited capability for work-related activity – see the bullet list below this one).
  • You are receiving plasmapherisis, 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.
  • You have been officially notified not to work because of contact with an infectious disease.
  • You have reached the age at which you can claim pension credit and you are entitled to disability living allowance or personal independence payment (if you get a particular rate you are treated as having limited capability for work-related activity too – see the bullets below.)

Note: unlike in ESA, for UC you are not treated as having limited capability for work when you first submit a medical certificate from your doctor, and whilst the WCA is being arranged. This can mean, for example, that you are expected to look for work unless and until it is actually decided under the WCA that you do have limited capability for work. For a short period you can have what you are expected to do adjusted by declaring yourself unfit for work, but after that you need to ask your work coach to use her/his discretion until your WCA is decided. See How does limited capability affect UC? for more information.

You are treated as having limited capability for work and work-related activity in the following situations (set out in Schedule 9 of the Universal Credit Regulations 2013):

  • You are terminally ill – i.e. your death can reasonably be expected within six months.
  • You are receiving chemotherapy or radiotherapy for cancer, or you are recovering from such treatment, or you are likely to receive such treatment within six months and the DWP is satisfied that your treatment is likely to limit your ability to undertake work and work-related activity.
  • You are pregnant and there is a serious risk to your health or your baby’s health if you do not refrain from work and work-related activity.
  • You have reached the age at which you can claim pension credit and you are entitled to attendance allowance, the highest rate of disability living allowance care component or the enhanced rate of the personal independence payment daily living component.