ESA Descriptors And Points

I find knowing what the criteria the DWP is judging “fitness to work” by can be really helpful when filling in an ESA50 form (titled Limited Capability for Work Questionnare). I thought I’d post up the descriptors and the points for easy reference. You can see the details here. The assessment changed slightly in 2013 so new additions have been marked with a *.

To qualify for ESA you must get 15 points or more in total from the following 17 descriptors. You will automatically go into the work related activity group (WRAG) if you do. To be moved into the support group you need to meet at least one of a slightly different criteria which I have posted afterwards. I hope this helps.

Descriptors and scores for each physical activity 

1. Mobilising unaided by another person with or without a walking stick, manual wheelchair or other aid if such aid can reasonably be used.

(a) Cannot either:
  (i) mobilise more than 50 metres on level ground without stopping in order to avoid significant discomfort or exhaustion;
or
  (ii) repeatedly mobilise 50 metres within a reasonable timescale because of significant discomfort or exhaustion.

15 points

(b) Cannot mount or descend two steps unaided by another person even with the support of a handrail.

9 points

(c) Cannot either:
  (i) mobilise more than 100 metres on level ground without stopping in order to avoid significant discomfort or exhaustion;
or
  (ii) repeatedly mobilise 100 metres within a reasonable timescale because of significant discomfort or exhaustion.

9 points

(d) Cannot either:
  (i) mobilise more than 200 metres on level ground without stopping in order to avoid significant discomfort or exhaustion;
or
  (ii) repeatedly mobilise 200 metres within a reasonable timescale because of significant discomfort or exhaustion.

6 points

(e) None of the above apply

0 points


2. Standing and sitting.

(a) Cannot move between one seated position and another seated position located next to one another without receiving physical assistance from another person.

15 points

(b) Cannot, for the majority of the time, remain at a work station, either:
  (i) standing unassisted by another person (even if free to move around); or
  (ii) sitting (even in an adjustable chair) for more than 30 minutes, before needing to move away in order to avoid significant discomfort or exhaustion.
 *(iii) a combination of (i) and (ii) for more than an hour, before needing to move away in order to avoid significant discomfort or exhaustion.

9 points

(c) Cannot, for the majority of the time, remain at a work station, either:
  (i) standing unassisted by another person (even if free to move around); or
  (ii) sitting (even in an adjustable chair) for more than an hour before needing to move away in order to avoid significant discomfort or exhaustion.

 *(iii) a combination of (i) and (ii) for more than an hour, before needing to move away in order to avoid significant discomfort or exhaustion.

6 points

(d) None of the above apply

0 points


3. Reaching.

(a) Cannot raise either arm as if to put something in the top pocket of a coat or jacket.

15 points

(b) Cannot raise either arm to top of head as if to put on a hat.

9 points

(c) Cannot raise either arm above head height as if to reach for something.

6 points

(d) None of the above apply.

0 points


4. Picking up and moving or transferring by the use of the upper body and arms.

(a) Cannot pick up and move a 0.5 litre carton full of liquid.

15 points

(b) Cannot pick up and move a one litre carton full of liquid.

9 points

(c) Cannot transfer a light but bulky object such as an empty cardboard box.

6 points

(d) None of the above apply.

0 points

5. Manual dexterity.

(a) Cannot either:
  (i) press a button, such as a telephone keypad; or
  (ii) turn the pages of a book with either hand.

15 points

(b) Cannot pick up a £1 coin or equivalent with either hand.

15 points

(c) Cannot use a pen or pencil to make a meaningful mark.

9 points

(d) Cannot use a suitable keyboard or mouse.

9 points

(e) None of the above apply.

0 points

6. Making self understood through speaking, writing, typing, or other means normally used, unaided by another person.

(a) Cannot convey a simple message, such as the presence of a hazard.

15 points

(b) Has significant difficulty conveying a simple message to strangers.

15 points

(c) Has some difficulty conveying a simple message to strangers.

6 points

(d) None of the above apply.

0 points

7. Understanding communication by both verbal means (such as hearing or lip reading) and nonverbal means (such as reading 16 point print) using any aid it is reasonable to expect them to use, unaided by another person.

(a) Cannot understand a simple message due to sensory impairment, such as the location of a fire escape.

15 points

(b) Has significant difficulty understanding a simple message from a stranger due to sensory impairment.

15 points

(c) Has some difficulty understanding a simple message from a stranger due to sensory impairment.

6 points

(d) None of the above apply.

0 points

8. Navigation and maintaining safety, using a guide dog or other aid if normally used.

(a) Unable to navigate around familiar surroundings, without being accompanied by another person, due to sensory impairment.

15 points

(b) Cannot safely complete a potentially hazardous task such as crossing the road, without being accompanied by another person, due to sensory impairment.

15 points

(c) Unable to navigate around unfamiliar surroundings, without being accompanied by another person, due to sensory impairment.

9 points

(d) None of the above apply.

0 points

9. Absence or loss of control leading to extensive evacuation of the bowel and/or bladder, other than enuresis (bed-wetting) despite the presence of any aids or adaptations normally used.

(a) At least once a month experiences:
  (i) loss of control leading to extensive evacuation of the bowel and/or voiding of the bladder; or
  (ii) substantial leakage of the contents of a collecting device sufficient to require cleaning and a change in clothing.

15 points

(b) At risk of loss of control leading to extensive evacuation of the bowel and/or voiding of the bladder, sufficient to require cleaning and a change in clothing, if not able to reach a toilet quickly.

6 points

(c) None of the above apply.

0 points

10. Consciousness during waking moments.

(a) At least once a week, has an involuntary episode of lost or altered consciousness resulting in significantly disrupted awareness or concentration.

15 points

(b) At least once a month, has an involuntary episode of lost or altered consciousness resulting in significantly disrupted awareness or concentration.

6 points

(c) None of the above apply.

0 points

Descriptors and scores for each mental, cognitive and intellectual function assessment

11. Learning tasks.

(a) Cannot learn how to complete a simple task, such as setting an alarm clock.

15 points

(b) Cannot learn anything beyond a simple task, such as setting an alarm clock.

9 points

(c) Cannot learn anything beyond a moderately complex task, such as the steps involved in operating a washing machine to clean clothes.

6 points

(d) None of the above apply.

0 points

12. Awareness of 15 everyday hazards (such as boiling water or sharp objects).

(a) Reduced awareness of everyday hazards leads to a significant risk of:
  (i) injury to self or others; or
  (ii) damage to property or possessions such that they require supervision for the majority of the time to maintain safety.

15 points

(b) Reduced awareness of everyday hazards leads to a significant risk of:
  (i) injury to self or others; or
  (ii) damage to property or possessions such that they frequently require supervision to maintain safety.

9 points

(c) Reduced awareness of everyday hazards leads to a significant risk of:
  (i) injury to self or others; or
  (ii) damage to property or possessions such that they occasionally require supervision to maintain safety.

6 points

(d) None of the above apply.

0 points

13. Initiating and completing personal action (which means planning, organisation, problem solving, prioritising or switching tasks).

(a) Cannot, due to impaired mental function, reliably initiate or complete at least 2 sequential personal actions.

15 points

(b) Cannot, due to impaired mental function, reliably initiate or complete at least 2 personal actions for the majority of the time.

9 points

(c) Frequently cannot, due to impaired mental function, reliably initiate or complete at least 2 personal actions.

6 points

(d) None of the above apply

0 points

14. Coping with change.

(a) Cannot cope with any change to the extent that day to day life cannot be managed.

15 points

(b) Cannot cope with minor planned change (such as a pre-arranged change to the routine time scheduled for a lunch break), to the extent that overall day to day life is made significantly more difficult.

9 points

(c) Cannot cope with minor unplanned change (such as the timing of an appointment on the day it is due to occur), to the extent that overall, day to day life is made significantly more difficult.

6 points

(d) None of the above apply.

0 points

15. Getting about.

(a) Cannot get to any specified place with which the claimant is familiar.

15 points

(b) Is unable to get to a specified place with which the claimant is familiar, without being accompanied by another person.

9 points

(c) Is unable to get to a specified place with which the claimant is unfamiliar without being accompanied by another person.

6 points

(d) None of the above apply.

0 points

16. Coping with social engagement due to cognitive impairment or mental disorder.

(a) Engagement in social contact is always precluded due to difficulty relating to others or significant distress experienced by the individual.

15 points

(b) Engagement in social contact with someone unfamiliar to the claimant is always precluded due to difficulty relating to others or significant distress experienced by the individual.

9 points

(c) Engagement in social contact with someone unfamiliar to the claimant is not possible for the majority of the time due to difficulty relating to others or significant distress experienced by the individual.

6 points

(d) None of the above apply.

0 points

17. Appropriateness of behaviour with other people, due to cognitive impairment or mental disorder.

(a) Has, on a daily basis, uncontrollable episodes of aggressive or disinhibited behaviour that would be unreasonable in any workplace.

15 points

(b) Frequently has uncontrollable episodes of aggressive or disinhibited behaviour that would be unreasonable in any workplace.

15 points

(c) Occasionally has uncontrollable episodes of aggressive or disinhibited behaviour that would be unreasonable in any workplace.

9 points

(d) None of the above apply.

0 points
This next section shows what they are looking for in people they place in the support group. You need to meet at least one of these.

Limited Capability for Work-Related Activity Descriptors


 1. Mobilising unaided by another person with or without a walking stick, manual wheelchair or other aid if such aid can reasonably be used.
Cannot either:
(a) mobilise more than 50 metres on level ground without stopping in order to avoid significant discomfort or exhaustion; or
(b) repeatedly mobilise 50 metres within a reasonable timescale because of significant discomfort or exhaustion.

2.Transferring from one seated position to another.
Cannot move between one seated position and another seated position located next to one another without receiving physical assistance from another person.

3. Reaching.

Cannot raise either arm as if to put something in the top pocket of a coat or jacket.

4. Picking up and moving or transferring by the use of the upper body and arms (excluding standing, sitting, bending or kneeling and all other activities specified in this Schedule).
Cannot pick up and move a 0.5 litre carton full of liquid.

5. Manual dexterity.
Cannot either:
(a) press a button, such as a telephone keypad; or
(b) turn the pages of a book with either hand.

6. Making self understood through speaking, writing, typing, or other means normally used.
Cannot convey a simple message, such as the presence of a hazard.

7. Understanding communication by hearing, lip reading, reading 16 point print or using any aid if reasonably used.
Cannot understand a simple message due to sensory impairment, such as the location of a fire escape.

8. Absence or loss of control over extensive evacuation of the bowel and/or voiding of the bladder, other than enuresis (bed-wetting), despite the presence of any aids or adaptations normally used.
At least once a week experiences:
(a) loss of control leading to extensive evacuation of the bowel and/or voiding of the bladder; or
(b) substantial leakage of the contents of a collecting device sufficient to require the individual to clean themselves and change clothing.

9. Learning tasks.
Cannot learn how to complete a simple task, such as setting an alarm clock, due to cognitive impairment or mental disorder.

10. Awareness of hazard.
Reduced awareness of everyday hazards, due to cognitive impairment or mental disorder, leads to a significant risk of:
(a) injury to self or others; or
(b) damage to property or possessions such that they require supervision for the majority of the time to maintain safety.

11. Initiating and completing personal action (which means planning, organisation, problem solving, prioritising or switching tasks).
Cannot, due to impaired mental function, reliably initiate or complete at least 2 sequential personal actions.

12. Coping with change.
Cannot cope with any change, due to cognitive impairment or mental disorder, to the extent that day to day life cannot be managed.

13. Coping with social engagement, due to cognitive impairment or mental disorder.
Engagement in social contact is always precluded due to difficulty relating to others or
significant distress experienced by the individual.

14. Appropriateness of behaviour with other people, due to cognitive impairment or mental disorder.
Has, on a daily basis, uncontrollable episodes of aggressive or disinhibited behaviour that would be unreasonable in any workplace.

15. Conveying food or drink to the mouth.
(a) Cannot convey food or drink to the claimant’s own mouth without receiving physical assistance from someone else;
(b) Cannot convey food or drink to the claimant’s own mouth without repeatedly stopping, experiencing breathlessness or severe discomfort;
(c) Cannot convey food or drink to the claimant’s own mouth without receiving regular prompting given by someone else in the claimant’s physical presence; or
(d) Owing to a severe disorder of mood or behaviour, fails to convey food or drink to the claimant’s own mouth without receiving:
(i) physical assistance from someone else; or
(ii) regular prompting given by someone else in the claimant’s presence.

16. Chewing or swallowing food or drink.
(a) Cannot chew or swallow food or drink;
(b) Cannot chew or swallow food or drink without repeatedly stopping, experiencing breathlessness or severe discomfort;
(c) Cannot chew or swallow food or drink without repeatedly receiving regular prompting given by someone else in the claimant’s presence; or
(d) Owing to a severe disorder of mood or behaviour, fails to:
(i) chew or swallow food or drink; or
(ii) chew or swallow food or drink without regular prompting given by someone else in the claimant’s presence. 

There are circumstances in which a claimant will be treated as having limited capability for work. Where possible, Jobcentre Plus will try to identify such claimants without the need for a medical assessment. Claimants would be treated as having limited capability for work in the following instances:

• terminally ill, defined as having a progressive health condition, as a result of which death can be reasonably expected within 6 months


• receiving treatment by way of intravenous, intraperitoneal or intrathecal chemotherapy or likely to receive such treatment within six months after the date of the determination of capability for work or


• recovering from that treatment and the Secretary of State is satisfied the claimant should be treated as having limited capability for work


• is excluded or abstains from work, or from work of such kind, pursuant to a request or notice in writing lawfully made under an enactment; or otherwise prevented from working pursuant to an enactment, by reason of the claimant being a carrier, or having been in contact with a case, of a relevant disease


• for a pregnant woman, there is a serious risk of damage to her health or to the health of her unborn child if she does do not refrain from work.


• for a pregnant woman, she is within the maternity allowance period; and is entitled to a maternity allowance under Section 35(1) of the Contributions and Benefits Act(81)


• a pregnant woman whose expected or actual date of confinement has been certified in accordance with the Social Security (Medical Evidence) Regulations 1976, on any day in the period –
i) beginning with the first date of the 6th week before the expected week of her confinement or the actual date of her confinement, whichever is the earlier; and
ii) ending on the 14th day after the actual date of her confinement if she would have no entitlement to a maternity allowance or statutory maternity pay were she to make a claim in respect of that period


• undergoing medical or other treatment as an inpatient in a hospital or similar institution, or which is a day of recovery from that treatment. The circumstances in which a person is to be regarded as undergoing treatment include where the person is attending a residential programme of rehabilitation for the treatment of drug or alcohol addiction.


• receiving regular weekly treatment by way of haemodialysis for chronic renal failure; treatment by way of plasmapheresis or by way of radiotherapy; or regular weekly treatment by way of total parenteral nutrition for gross impairment of enteric function, is to be treated as having limited capability for work during any week in which that claimant is engaged in that treatment or has a day of recovery from that treatment


• students in full time education or approved training who are in receipt of Disability Living Allowance.

• A claimant is suffering from a severe life threatening disease in relation to which –
i) there is medical evidence that the disease is uncontrollable, or uncontrolled, by a recognised therapeutic procedure, and
ii) in the case of a disease that is uncontrolled, there is a reasonable cause for it not to be controlled by a recognised therapeutic procedure


• suffers from some specific disease or bodily or mental disablement and by reasons of such disease or disablement, there would be a substantial risk to the mental or physical health of any person if the claimant were found not to have limited capability for work-related activity.

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  1. Thank you for posting this, Having all the descriptors in an easily accessible place has been a great deal of help. As a student in full time education in reciept of DLA reading this today has given me the courage to ring up DWP and challenge the decision to sent me for a WCA so thank you

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  2. of course it turns out that they withold the right to completely ignore those discriptors if they choose. I spoke to someone today who says even if they're in this category they will still be called so I dont know why they bother having that there its just a lie!

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  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  4. thank you so much for this, it has proved very informative, and although CAB have this info it is not accessable from their web site or from the benefits section of DWP

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  5. Great thoughts you got there, believe I may possibly try just some of it throughout my daily life.
    Function Point Estimation Training

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  6. I have received at least 15 points BUT because pain and or discomfort isn't taken in to consideration I was put in work related and I have 11 seperate illnesses, I'm just waiting for my appeal date.

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