Migraine and Benefits

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Migraine and the benefits you may be entitled to
Migraine and Employment & Support Allowance (ESA)
Most migraineurs can manage their condition with the aid of appropriate medication and attention to lifestyle. They may need to take occasional days off sick during severe attacks but will normally try to work through them with the aid of medication. Sometimes the condition escalates for some individuals and a period of sick leave may be required to break the pattern: this can range from one week to three months and is usually covered by Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). However, for a very few unfortunate people, migraine attacks are frequent and severe and prove resistant to all forms of treatment. As migraine is highly variable, some migraineurs never know when an attack may strike and it may leave them unable to work for around three days during many weeks of the year; they are unable to find employment and therefore require Employment & Support Allowance (formerly Incapacity Benefit).

Unfortunately, the criteria for awarding ESA are not best suited to migraineurs or others with an intermittent but debilitating illness (unless the attacks are life threatening). As migraineurs are usually quite well between attacks, they are often not awarded sufficient points in some categories. The “Work Capability Assessment” seems to be a particular problem as you have to be deemed unable to undertake any kind of work, not necessarily that which you are trained for or experienced in. No recognition appears to be given to the “unreliability factor”; migraineurs often never know when an attack will strike and few employers are willing to accept staff who, without warning, may or may not be well enough to come to work at the appointed times. Although the criteria should be applied uniformly throughout the country, much appears to depend on the knowledge and experience of the examining doctor and Tribunal members regarding migraine.

Migraine Action is active in lobbying for a change in the way eligibility for ESA is assessed. You may wish to write to your MP to tell him / her about your difficulties and enlist his / her help. An All Party Parliamentary Group on Primary Headache Disorders has been formed to highlight key issues such as this; please consider asking your MP to join.


We suggest that the following may help your claim:

  • Documentary evidence from a published source which outlines the symptoms of migraine and its effects on your quality of life. There are many books available about migraine in libraries etc. and a description most appropriate to support your individual case can be chosen. Visit www.migraine.org.uk/online-shop for further related reading materials.
  • Strong support from your GP and any specialist consulted is vital.
  • Evidence from former employers (to give details of the amount of time taken off, working under par etc.).
  • If you are a member of a Trade Union, they may have specialist advisers who can help you.
  • Your local Citizens Advice Bureau will have people experienced in completing the necessary forms and they will be able to help and advise you. (What is put on the application forms from the very beginning can have a substantial influence on the way your claim is processed).
  • The “Work Capability Assessment” seems to be a particular stumbling block and, in the section of the form where you are asked to state whether you can perform certain tasks, e.g. stand unaided, walk upstairs, dress yourself etc., some applicants have created two columns: one for when they are well and can do everything without a problem and another for during an attack when they may have severe problems with some of the tasks. This combined with the information on frequency and length of attacks can help to illustrate how difficult it can be for some people to find suitable employment.
  • Keep a diary giving details of frequency of attacks, how long they last, the symptoms and the effect that they have on your quality of life both during attacks (e.g. if you had to stay in bed, were unable to stand, were unable to prepare a meal etc.) and between them (e.g. if you feel unable to make plans for fear of an attack, are unable to drive or operate machinery because of the effects of the medication you take etc.).
  • A note of any trigger factors would also be a good idea particularly with proof that a migraine follows (for example, if when shopping a migraine is triggered by fluorescent lighting, this may indicate that you are not able to work in artificial light; if a migraine follows a spell at a computer screen, this may indicate that you cannot work in an office etc.).
  •  See the useful resources section in this booklet for further information.


  Version: 2
  Review Date: February 2014
  Next Review date: February 2017
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