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

Working while claiming ESA normally disentitles you, but certain types of ‘exempt work’ are allowed.1 The rules are explained in detail in Chapter 46(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, ofr 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 exempt work?

  • The main categories of exempt 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 £104 per week; 
  • up to 52 weeks work for less than 16 hours and no more than £104 per week (if you are in the ‘support group’ i.e. you have LCRWA, the limit of 52 weeks does not apply).

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;
  • unless you are in the ‘support group’, a further period of 52 weeks of working for less than 16 hours and no more than £104 per week is only allowed after a gap of 52 weeks, or a gap of 12 weeks during which you are not entitled to ESA or LCW credits.