There are some kinds of work you may be able to do while you are getting welfare benefits. These are:
- unpaid work, such as for a charity (voluntary work), or
- ‘permitted work’ – work you are allowed to do while you are on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). Permitted work can include paid employment or self employment.
Permitted work is work you may do if you get Employment and Support Allowance. There are three types of permitted work:
1. You can earn up to £20 a week without affecting your benefit. This is called the Permitted Work Lower Limit. If you are on incapacity benefit or severe disablement allowance and you are also on income support you can do permitted work but any earnings over £20 will be deducted from your income support.
2. You can work under 16 hours a week and earn up to £115.50 a week for up to 52 weeks. This amount is the equivalent to 16 hours paid at the National Minimum Wage and is called the Permitted Work Higher Limit.
You can do permitted work for an unlimited period if you are on ESA and you are in the ESA support group.
If you are in the ESA WRAG group you can do permitted work for a 52 week period. Once a period starts even weeks when you do no work count towards the 52 week limit. After you have done 52 weeks work there must be a gap of at least 52 weeks before you can earn the Higher Limit again, whereupon another 52 weeks work is permitted.
If you receive income support, your earnings over £20 a week will count as income.
3. If your work is supervised by someone from a public/local authority or voluntary group because it’s their job to help ill or disabled people do work, you can work as many hours as you like as long as you don’t earn more than £115.50. This applies if you’re working in the community, a sheltered workshop or as part of a hospital treatment programme. You must be paid at least the National Minimum Wage. The support worker must direct and oversee the performance of the worker regularly and the supervision must be more than the normal support provided in the workplace by employers.
You must talk to Jobcentre Plus before starting any permitted work. They will send you form PW1 to fill in and send back to them. You will not receive ESA if your earnings exceed the £115.50 limit.
If you get Housing Benefit or a reduction in your Council Tax, you must also tell your local council before you start permitted work, as it could affect your benefit or Council Tax. If you are on ESA, incapacity benefit or severe disablement allowance and are on housing benefit or council tax benefit you are allowed to keep all your permitted work earnings. Earnings from permitted work will not affect your benefit.
Other allowed work
The following kinds of work are also allowed:
- care of a relative or domestic tasks carried out in your own home
- work done as a councillor. If you receive a councillor’s allowance that pays more than £104.00 a week (excluding expenses), an amount equal to the extra money will be deducted from your contributory employment and support allowance, incapacity benefit or severe disablement allowance.
- any activity in an emergency, to protect another person, or to prevent serious damage to property or livestock
- duties undertaken as an appeal tribunal disability member – one day a week is allowed (or two half days)
- an approved work trial arranged in writing with the employer by the DWP (or an organisation providing services to the DWP) for which you will receive no wages
- self-employed work done whilst you are 'test trading' for up to 26 weeks with help from a self-employment provider arranged by Jobcentre Plus.
- work which is so minimal that it can be regarded as trivial or negligible
Universal Credit removes the distinction between in-work and out-of-work support so the permitted work rules are replaced with work allowances and a taper rate of 65%. The Universal Credit work allowances for people with limited capability for work are £397 per month for those with no housing costs and £192 per month for those with housing costs. Once a person is earning more than their work allowance a taper rate of 65% is applied to their remaining earnings, reducing the amount of UC that they receive.
You can volunteer as many hours as you like while getting benefit, as long as you keep to the main benefit rules. You must tell Jobcentre Plus before you start volunteering.
You must not be paid money or anything else for volunteering. It’s okay to be paid your expenses, but you must tell Jobcentre Plus what you get and hold on to any receipts. Any money you get on top of expenses may be counted as earnings, and affect your benefit.
Choosing not to be paid is not the same as volunteering. If you’re doing what someone else would normally be paid for, this can be classed as unpaid work, not volunteering. Jobcentre Plus may decide that what you would have been paid is ‘notional earnings’, and this may affect your benefit. They decide this by looking at whether:
- someone would normally be paid to do the same kind of work
- your work helps society or your community in some way, and
- you work for a charity or similar group.