Ask CPAG Online - What is limited capability for work?

What is limited capability for work?

‘Limited capability for work’ (LCW) is the legal term which applies to claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA) who are assessed as having a physical or mental condition which limits their capability to work, to the extent that it not reasonable to expect them to work1. You must have LCW to qualify for ESA.2

In practice, whether you have LCW is determined by assessing whether you are capable or incapable of carrying out a series of prescribed activities (and scoring at least 15 points in total in respect of the ‘descriptors’ under each activity) Alternatively, you can be treated as having LCW in other specified circumstances.3

The assessment is known as the ‘work capability assessment’ and normally requires you to complete an ESA50 questionnaire and then attend a medical examination carried out on behalf of the DWP by Maximus, before a DWP decision-maker determines whether you have LCW. The rules and procedures are explained in detail in Chapter 46 of the CPAG Handbook. 

It is important to understand that the test of LCW is not generally a test of whether you suffer from a particular illness or disability, or whether you are too ill or disabled to carry out particular or any actual work. It is, rather, a fairly superficial test of your physical and mental functioning to determine whether you would be able to cope in a theoretical modern workplace, or whether you should automatically treated as having LCW in prescribed circumstances.

How should you approach the test?

It is best to approach the test systematically in the following way:

  • Firstly, check whether you can be treated as having LCW on the basis, for example, of being terminally ill; receiving, likely to receive or recovering from chemotherapy or radiotherapy; pregnancy; chronic renal failure; or being in hospital. The full list and conditions can be found in the regulations 20, 25 and 26 of the ESA Regulations 2008. If any of these ‘exemptions’ apply to you, notify the DWP as soon as possible, with any supporting evidence you have. If you are terminally ill, you (or somebody on your behalf) should obtain and submit a form DS1500 completed by your doctor. If you are receiving or recovering from cancer treatment, you should ask your doctor or clinical nurse to complete the last page of the ESA50 questionnaire. 

  • If none of the exemptions apply, go through the list of prescribed activities and descriptors set out in schedule 2 to the ESA Regulations to see which ones you satisfy, how many points you should score, and what evidence you have or could obtain to support your claim. You should take into account whether you could undertake the activities most of the time with a reasonable degree of regularity, taking into account pain and fatigue. This will help you to provide the relevant information when you complete the ESA50 questionnaire, attend your medical, and dispute a decision that you do not have LCW.

  • If you cannot or may not score the required 15 points, consider whether you satisfy either of the ‘exceptional circumstances’ set out in regulation 29 of the ESA Regulations i.e. you are suffering from an uncontrollable or uncontrolled life threatening disease, or there would be a substantial risk to health if you were found not to have LCW. If this could apply you should notify the DWP with any supporting evidence.