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Permitted work

Disability Rights UK Factsheet F35

This factsheet is free for you to download. We are committed to providing free information on our website but we are a small charity and if you are able to make a donation to help cover costs of research and updating it would make a big difference.

This factsheet is about work you may do (including voluntary work) while claiming health or disability-related benefits.

If you start paid work of 16 hours or more per week, you should seek advice about benefit entitlement from an advice agency. You could request a ‘better-off’ calculation to establish whether you will be financially better off in work and identify the in-work benefits and tax credits you should be applying for.

(1) Disability benefits

Disability living allowance (DLA), personal independence payment (PIP) and attendance allowance are payable whether or not you are working. They are not means tested, so earnings do not affect the amount of your benefit.

Starting a job may suggest that your care or mobility needs have changed, so your benefit entitlement could be reconsidered. It is possible that your care needs may actually increase if you move into work. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) views starting or leaving work as a potential ‘change of circumstances’ for DLA and PIP.

(2) Permitted work

If you are getting employment and support allowance (ESA), incapacity benefit, severe disablement allowance (SDA), national insurance credits or income support because of incapacity for work, you are allowed to do some ‘permitted work’.

You have a choice of three permitted work options, depending on your circumstances:

  • permitted work lower limit;
  • permitted work higher limit; and
  • supported permitted work.

Permitted work can include paid employment or self-employment.

You do not need the permission of a doctor to do permitted work, but you should tell the DWP if you are working.

For ESA, incapacity benefit and SDA, all permitted work earnings are ignored. If you are on income support, any earnings over £20 will be deducted from your income support.

Permitted work lower limit

Under this option, you can earn up to £20 a week for an unlimited period.

Permitted work higher limit

Under this option, you can earn up to £115.50 a week, after tax and national insurance deductions. The work must be for less than 16 hours a week. The earnings limit is normally increased each October. You can normally only do permitted work higher limit for up to 52 weeks. You may, however, do it without time limit if you are on ESA and have been placed in the ‘support group’.

If you have a break in your claim of more than eight weeks (or 12 weeks for ESA), you can repeat the 52-week period of permitted work higher limit. Otherwise, you can do further permitted work higher limit only after a gap of more than 52 weeks since you last did it.

Supported permitted work

This is work where you are supervised by someone who is employed by a public or local authority or community or voluntary group which provides or finds work for people with disabilities. It can also be work which is part of a treatment programme under medical supervision while you are an in-patient or regularly attending as an out-patient of a hospital or similar institution.

Supported permitted work has no restriction on the hours you work and can be for an unlimited period. You cannot earn more than £115.50 a week after tax and national insurance deductions.

Permitted work and universal credit

There is no ‘permitted work’ under universal credit. Instead you will be encouraged to do some work, even if only for a few hours a week, if you can manage it. There is no time limit to how many weeks you can work. It may be possible for some of your earnings to be disregarded when your universal credit is calculated.

For more information about this, see Factsheet F55 - universal credit.

(3) 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 as a councillor. If you receive a councillor’s allowance that pays more than £115.50 a week, excluding expenses, the excess will be deducted from your contributory ESA, incapacity benefit or SDA;
  • 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);
  • a DWP-approved unpaid work trial or work placement.
  • self-employed work done whilst you are 'test trading' for up to 26 weeks with help from a self-employment provider arranged by the DWP;
  • (for ESA only) duties undertaken fostering a child or providing respite care to someone who is not normally a member of your household, if you receive payment from a health body, voluntary organisation or local authority (or from the person placed with you by the local authority).
  • a DWP-approved unpaid work trial or work placement; and
  • work which is so minimal that it can be regarded as trivial or negligible.

(4) Voluntary Work

If you get incapacity benefit or SDA, you are allowed to do voluntary work for anyone other than a close relative. A ‘close relative’ is a parent (or in-law or step-parent), son/daughter (in-law/step), brother, sister or the partner of any of these.

If you get ESA or income support, you are allowed to do voluntary work for anyone other than a relative. A ‘relative’ is a parent (in-law or step-parent), son/daughter (in-law/step), brother, sister, or the partner of any of them; or a spouse or partner, grandparent, grandchild, uncle, aunt, nephew or niece.

You must not be paid for your work, other than reasonable expenses in connection with that work. Permitted expenses could include travel, meals, childminding, the costs of caring for a dependant, equipment needed for work and use of a telephone. There is no limit on the number of hours you can volunteer.

Voluntary work and universal credit

If you are working as a volunteer under universal credit, the time you spend doing voluntary work can reduce by half the number of hours that the DWP will require you to look and prepare for work. This doesn’t mean there’s a limit on how much voluntary work you can do. For example, if you are volunteering for 35 hours a week and you are required to look and prepare for work for 35 hours a week, this requirement can be reduced by half to 17.5 hours.

For more information on universal credit, see Factsheet F55 - universal credit.

(5) Where can I get more help or information?

This factsheet is a basic basic introduction to work for people who are sick or disabled. You can find out more detailed information in our Disability Rights Handbook. This and all our other publications are available from our shop at https://crm.disabilityrightsuk.org/. You can also place orders by contacting Disability Rights UK.

You can get help and information at your local advice centre, such as a Citizens Advice Bureau. You can get more information about where to get personal advice from our Factsheet F15 - Getting advice. All our factsheets are free to download on our website at disabilityrightsuk.org.

You may find our other work-related factsheets useful. 

You can view the current minimum wage rates at www.gov.uk/national-minimum-wage-rates.

You can find out more about volunteering at www.gov.uk/volunteering.

Ian Greaves
11 May 2016