Ask CPAG Online - What work can you do when claiming ESA?

Working while claiming ESA normally disentitles you, but certain types of ‘permitted work’ (sometimes known as exempt work' are allowed.1 The rules are explained in detail in Chapter 45(4) of the CPAG Handbook. ‘Work’ is defined as ‘any work’ whether or not undertaken in expectation of payment. It does not, however, include domestic tasks at home, caring for a relative, work as a councillor, or activities in an emergency to protect a person or property.

If the work you do is very limited, you may be able to argue that it should be ignored as ‘de minimis’ (i.e. trivial or negligible) in accordance with case law (see, for example, CIB/6777/1999). This will depend on all the circumstances, including the number of hours, the pay, the tasks involved and length of service.

What is permitted work

The main categories of permitted work are:

  • work for which weekly earnings do not exceed £20;
  • work for no earnings as a volunteer or for a charity or voluntary organisation; 
  • approved unpaid work placements or trial self-employment schemes; 
  • ‘supervised work’ under medical supervision as part of a treatment programme, or supervised by someone employed by a local or public authority or a voluntary organisation to help people with disabilities find work, as long as you do not earn more than £125.50 per week; 
  • work for less than 16 hours and you earn no more than £125.50 per week.

Strictly speaking there is no legal requirement for you to inform the DWP if you are sure your work is exempt, but it is always wise to do so to avoid later problems, particularly as the rules for calculating earnings, hours and requalification periods can be complex. In this respect, note that:

  • the earnings rules apply to each week in which work is undertaken;
  • hours of work are calculated using an average, dependent on whether you have a recognisable cycle of work and whether your hours fluctuate;