What does it mean to be in the ESA Work Related Activity Group?

Most people get put into the Work Related Activity Group (otherwise known as WRAG) - probably at least 80 or 85%. It means you are deemed to be able to engage in 'work related activity' i.e. talking to an employment adviser about your future return to the workplace, and what support you might need to arrive at that stage. The first appointment is with an Employment Adviser in the Jobcentre, the rest of them will be with someone in a private sector company contracted to the DWP to run the Work Programme.

The good bit: they can offer wellness classes such as walking groups, CBT, help with CV preparation, training to change occupation - all sorts of things. It does not involve being told to apply for jobs. They cannot ask you to do anything that would make your condition worse. There is really nothing to be afraid of. If they push you in a direction you are not happy with, complain to their manager and complain to the Jobcentre.

The bad bit: they can defer appointments if you are not well, but if you don't turn up without telling them, they will sanction your benefit. They can't take away your basic amount, but they can remove the top-up you received since you got put into WRAG.

Another major implication of being put into WRAG is that if you receive ESA as a contribution-based benefit (i.e. you have paid all your NI contributions because you have worked recently) you can only get ESA for 365 days. The only way it can continue after that is if you are also eligible for the means-tested version. If you have a partner who works, you are unlikely to qualify (unless they have an extremely low income).

The other group of people on ESA will have been placed in the Support Group (a misnomer in my view, as they don't get any 'support') because they are deemed too ill/disabled to participate in any work related activity. They get slightly more money, and the payments can continue for as long as they qualify. They don't get asked to any interviews usually, apart from people occasionally checking that they still qualify or asking if they want to volunteer for things. Just say no.

If there is even a vague possibility that you have been put into the wrong group, I would suggest you appeal the decision. Get help from an advice agency to do this. You can only win such an appeal if you can score the relevant points or the 'exceptional circumstances' rules apply. Check this document for the points relevant to the Support Group on pages 24-26: direct.gov.uk/prod_consum_d...

For 'exceptional circumstances' to apply, you need to show that there would be a substantial risk to your physical or mental health if you were found fit for work related activity. You need good medical evidence for any appeal, and it needs to be specific to the grounds of your appeal, not just saying you have Lupus. It is not about your condition(s), but about the functional difficulties you have because of the condition(s).

You generally have a calendar month to lodge an appeal once you have been given a decision, so don't delay telling them that you want to appeal and why, even if you can't provide the necessary medical evidence at that time. But do be aware that it is 99.9% unlikely that they will change the decision unless you can provide new evidence, so do try to get it to them as quickly as you can. As well as medical evidence it is ok to provide letters of support from carers/relatives if they can explain your functional difficulties because they have witnessed them.

23 Replies

  • I have also been placed in a ESA Work Related Activity Group. To me this is rather weird. As they deemed me to ill to attend a ATOS 'interrogation', but found me in my absence, well enough to return to work. It just goes to show how meaningless this all is. It is just a box ticking exercise by ATOS and I was obviously one of the 90% who get put back in the 'return to work' pile.

    i will, of course, be appealing the decision.

  • Some (lucky) people don't go through the ATOS medical assessment because the DWP think they have adequate evidence to make a judgement without this (although it doesn't mean that their decision is right). Did they actually say that they thought you were too ill, or just not ask you to attend? They are not saying that you are well enough to work now - they are just suggesting that there is a realistic timescale during which you can prepare for a future return to work. They call this your 'prognosis'; usually it is something like 6 months or 12 months, and it means you can expect to be reassessed at that future time.

    By the way it is the DWP who make the decisions, not ATOS. The problem is that the DWP tend to rely on the ATOS report, so people who do get sent for a medical assessment often get a wrong decision as well, because of the poor quality of the assessment process.

    A lot of people appeal their decisions, and about 70% of them (with help from a good representative) are overturned. Good luck with yours.

  • Hi Kulie,

    I was telephoned by the 'Specialist Decision Maker' at my Benefit Centre and he told me that with all my various illnesses it had been deemed that I was too ill to attend an ATOS medical interrogation. I know that the DWP make the final decision based on the information from ATOS, but it was ATOS who deemed me too ill and the DWP confirmed. As my illnesses are, in part, progressive, I am not sure why if I am not fit/well enough to attend the interrogation why I will be well enough to work.

    I quite a bit to substantiate my claim, I just need a good representative to take with me as my brain becomes a bit fuddled at times and I forget huge chunks of relevant information at times.

    The name 'support group' I would agree with you as being a misnomer if ever I heard one.

    As for the 'Good luck', thanks very much as I feel I will need it.

  • You can only get put in the support group if you meet the criteria for it. Unfortunately it is true that you can be very poorly indeed and still not tick the right boxes. Check what points you could score on pages 24-26 of this document: direct.gov.uk/prod_consum_d...

    Many people with Lupus should qualify under descriptor number 1. Alternatively you should ask your GP if you can qualify under the exceptional circumstances rule, if there would be a substantial risk to your mental or physical health if you were found fit for work related activity (see page 10 of the same document).

    Appeal panels do not have discretion to put you in the support group if you cannot meet this legal test. It is not just a case of substantiating your illness, you have to look at the law as well. Very good luck.

  • I am mentally ill and am an outpatient to a mental health centre and am seeing a phichiatris and a pysicologist I have been on ESA for about a year. I have not been to appointments or anything it was not requested of me. I just got a call from the jobcentre to attend a voluntary appointment why now and what is this appointment for please tell me

  • Hi can any one help me January 4 th 2012 I was put on employment support allowence income based I was told I would have a interview 13 weeks later. Well January 2014 I was then put on the income based employment support allowence 3 weeks ago I had my medical and was put in work related group 2 questions will they back date the extra money I am entitled to now back to when I originally claimed in 2013 my doctor signs me of sick still so how can they make a decision that I am in work related group as that's going against my doctor as he wouldn't give me sick note if I was fit for work ?

  • I went to the Atos and scored 33 points. I then received a Work -focused interview date. I requested a reconsideration which was dismissed. I now have a new Work -focused interview for Friday the 13th. I have now made an appeal (confirmed). My Doctor has signed me off as 'unfit for work' until the end of July following my operation last summer.

    Any advice will be most appreciated as I find the situation almost unbearable.

  • Call the Jobcentre and tell them you have lodged an appeal in order to try and get yourself in the support group, and they should defer any requirement to attend a work focused interview (WFI). You might need to give evidence that your appeal has been lodged (the Tribunal Service should have sent you an acknowledgement letter). If the Jobcentre refuse, call a local advice agency for help.

    By the way, there seems to be an enormous amount of confusion as to what being in the work related activity group (WRAG) means - it does not mean that they think you are fit for work, or will ask you to look for work. WRAG is designed to support people who at the moment can't work, but will be able to at some time in the future. The help offered is tailored to help you overcome any barriers to eventual return to work. It doesn't always do what it is supposed to, but it isn't always scary, and it doesn't mean they disagree with your GP.

  • do you still need docters notes if your on esa work related activity group?

  • Usually they stop the requirement once they have assessed you into the relevant group (work related or support group) but you need to ask your Jobcentre - they will tell you. I can't promise that every Jobcentre works to the same rules and it will save you any trouble if you get them to confirm what they want.

  • I have been put in the work related activity group but am really concerned as suffer from depression and ongoing gynaecology problems and ongoing gastroproblems and find it very hard to leave home or even think about returning to work right now I don't know what to do

  • Ekelouise - you need to make sure that when you have your first appointment at the Jobcentre, you explain all your health problems. They are supposed to 'personalise' what you are asked to do, and they may not ask you to do very much (sometimes they just phone you once in a while to see how you are). If you genuinely can't leave home then maybe you should think about asking the DWP to reconsider this decision and try to get into the support ground. You probably need to ask for help from an advice agency, but basically you just need to write and ask them to look at it again, sending them medical evidence to support what you say. I have already written guidance on the support group and the rules that apply. Have a look at my other posts. Good luck with it.

  • I need to update the information above - sorry but I hadn't read it for quite a while.

    Where it says "The bad bit: they can defer appointments if you are not well, but if you don't turn up without telling them, they will sanction your benefit. They can't take away your basic amount, but they can remove the top-up you received since you got put into WRAG" - I'm afraid that is no longer correct and things have got worse - they now take away what I called the basic amount, which is your personal allowance (at the moment that is £72.40).

    Also you can't appeal decisions straight away - you now need to go through a Mandatory Reconsideration process, and it is only after the DWP has reconsidered their decision that you can submit an appeal (which you do direct to the tribunals service).

    This leads to a second bit of bad news - if they have disallowed your ESA claim, you don't get any money while you wait for the Mandatory Reconsideration unless you claim Jobseeker's Allowance (which means regularly signing on at the Jobcentre). Many people don't like to do that, because they feel it might be held against them in some way by the time they get to their appeal. Actually it won't be - the tribunal members know that you have no choice. If you are in this situation, make sure you keep sending your medical certificates even if you are on Jobseeker's, and as soon as you are able to lodge an appeal, change your claim back to ESA by asking for the 'appeal rate' of benefit. That means you don't have to sign on anymore. Also if you win your appeal (as long as you have continued to send medical certificates) your award will be backdated to the original ESA claim date.

    I hope that helps.

  • i was put into the WRAG group without a medical and forced to do a 2 week corse or i would get sanctioned that made me very ill the last week of it i was unable to walk or rite by the end of it , so you are wrong about not being told to do anything tyo make your condition worse , i now have to atend every week and do job surces looking at jobs i used to be able to do that now cant because i had a stroke , i find that depressing and humileating . they dont offer ant help what soever and it if just to torture ill people into signing off , the consultant at the hospitel comented that the stroke was the least of my problems , i was coping with then fairly well untill the job center "helped" me , i was also sanctioned after being set up with 2 apointments on the same day same time , i complained and was told it was not a resonable excuse to miss one .... finany appealed and won , i have the letter is anyone is interested

  • Hi Chris

    Sorry you've had such an awful time. I'm not saying that bad things don't happen - they obviously do, otherwise organisations such as the one I work for wouldn't need to exist - but what I am saying is that they shouldn't, as they go against the DWP's own guidelines. Anyone who experiences this sort of thing should complain immediately, if necessary to the Manager at your local Jobcentre, or the Manager of your work programme provider company. You shouldn't have to go through an appeal to correct this sort of thing, but I'm not surprised you won.

  • Iv been put on this work related job group after a medical. Iv not had any information sent but found out by ringing up in December to find the outcome. The gentleman on the phone said my money would be reduced by seven pounds a week in order to encourage me to work a few hours. What I'm needing to know is how many hours am I allowed to work and will the money earnt be deducted from my benefit.

  • What you've been told doesn't make any sense, so I would go back and check that you have understood them correctly - ask to speak to a Manager or ask for an explanation in writing. If you can, go to an advice agency. If you are on ESA in the work related activity group you cannot be told to 'work a few hours'. Are you definitely on ESA, or are you possibly on Universal Credit? I can't comment properly on your benefit being reduced because I don't know how your money was made up before this decision. You aren't allowed to work and stay on ESA unless you do 'permitted work' and you need to discuss the rules for this with the Jobcentre or an advice agency - mostly you will only be able to do this for a maximum of one year, and you have to work less than 16 hours per week. If you are on ESA and do permitted work within the rules, the money will not be deducted from your benefit. However, if you are on Universal Credit, the rules are different - you are allowed to earn some money. Just always remember that the Jobcentre may see a fundamental incompatibility between someone saying they are too sick to work, and then also saying they want to work to earn more money. Permitted work used to be called 'therapeutic work' and that description is more apt - basically doing a little bit of work is seen as testing the water, to see if you are capable of returning to work, and it is there as a step designed to help you on the way to giving up your benefit.

  • I'm definitely on esa. Have been for a while. I was told that I would be able to work six hours and go to this job group. However what has happened is something came up that I thought I could manage bit anxiety took over and iv basically bottled it. I need to ring them as your information contrasts the information I was given. It's all been a bit to much to be honest. Thanks

  • Six hours should definitely not be a problem. Like I said, the whole idea of permitted work is so that you can try things out, and if it doesn't work there should be no risk because you haven't given up your benefit anyway. If you suffer from anxiety you obviously need to take baby steps and always protect yourself by keeping within the rules - so it really helps to understand them. Can you talk to an advice agency?

  • I have realised from the anxiety that I am not ready. I will ring them Monday. Thanks

  • Can you give me any help with esa been on support group now on wrag group since last assessment last year still no work focus interview until chasing up after on year allegedly around 8 weeks after wca assessment so what does it involve after checking out various sites I find it very much confusing if you could enlighten me would appreciate it!

  • Hope you get an answer soon

  • What it means to be in the WRAG (Work Related Activity Group) depends on your condition and your Work Coach (and what they think you might be capable of doing). The work-related activities you might be asked to do are personalised, so two different people with different capabilities shouldn't be asked to do the same things. It can vary from you being asked to join a walking group or attend therapy, to being asked to join a course to help your literacy or numeracy skills, to trying voluntary work. There is no 'one size fits all'. If you get asked to do things that you think would make your health worse, you can say no - ask your Work Coach to reconsider what they expect. The tasks are supposed to help you get a bit more 'work-ready' for when your health allows a return to work. Work Coaches will love it if you come up with a list of suggestions of your own - it saves them thinking up things for you.

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