Work is central to many people’s lives. After receiving a diagnosis of an incurable illness, your immediate thoughts might be how am I going to continue to work? Do I want to continue to work? Can I afford not to work?

When making decisions about your work, try to focus on what’s right for you and your circumstances. Here we outline what rights you have at work, together with benefits that may be available.

At the end of the page, we give you a list of organisations you can talk to for further support.

Your rights at work following a diagnosis of an incurable illness

If you are diagnosed with an incurable illness, you are likely to be considered disabled – even if you don’t think of yourself in that way. As a result, you have certain additional rights under the Equality Act 2010 at work.

  • You don’t have to tell your employer about your terminal illness, unless you have a professional requirement to do so.
  • Your employer is required to consider reasonable adjustments to accommodate your needs at work, such as working from home, time off for treatment, adjusting your workstation.
  • Your employer cannot make you redundant because of your illness; nor can they force you to resign or retire.

You will most likely need to tell your employer at some point that you are stopping work. If you find it difficult to talk about this, see our article on Talking about dying, which gives suggestions for ways to approach this subject.

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)

If you are employed and too ill to work, you can get £116.75 per week Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) (2024–25). It’s paid by your employer for up to 28 weeks and will be paid in the same way as your normal wages with tax and National Insurance deducted.

If your company has a sick pay scheme (or ‘occupational scheme’), you could get more than SSP. Check your employment contract.

Benefits and financial support

If you have been diagnosed with an incurable illness and, as a result, find that you are working fewer hours or stop working, the following benefits might be available to you.

New Style Employment and Support Allowance (New Style ESA)

You can apply for New Style Employment and Support Allowance (New Style ESA) if you have a disability or health condition that affects how much you can work.

You can apply if you’re employed, self-employed or unemployed. This benefit is non-means tested but is subject to tax. If you are receiving Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) (see above), you can’t claim for New Style ESA until your employer has stopped paying it (up to 28 weeks).

New Style ESA gives you money to help with living costs if you’re unable to work. To be eligible you:

  • must be under State Pension age
  • have a disability or health condition that affects how much you can work
  • must have paid enough National Insurance contributions in the last two tax years.

You will need to show that your medical condition makes it difficult to work. This is called ‘limited capability for work’. You can ask your GP or the doctor who’s treating you for proof you have limited capability for work. This is called a 'fit note'.

Fast track: your claim for ESA can be fast tracked if you are terminally ill and eligible to fill in form SR1 (formally called form DS1500). If you are, you do not need to attend a face-to-face medical assessment. Discuss this with your GP or healthcare professional.

You might be able to get Universal Credit at the same time (see below).

To claim ESA, go to GOV.UK, which explains how to claim , together with information on how much you might get each week  and other essential advice.

Universal Credit

Universal Credit is a payment to help with your living costs. You may be able to get it if you cannot work, are out of work or on a low income. This benefit is means tested.

To claim, you will need to be:

  • aged 18 or over and under State Pension age
  • have £16,000 or less in money, savings and investments.

If you live with your partner, you must both claim for Universal Credit as any claim is for your household. Your partner’s income and savings will be taken into consideration as well as your own.

Depending on your financial circumstances, you might be eligible to receive help with your rent or the interest of your mortgage as a part of this benefit.

To claim Universal Credit, go to GOV.UK, which explains how to claim , together with information on how your earnings affect your payments , what you’ll get  and other essential advice.

Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (IIDB)

This benefit is potentially available if you become ill or are disabled due to an accident or disease at work or on an approved employment training scheme or course. The amount you may get will depend on your individual circumstances.

Go to the IIDB page  on GOV.UK to find out more, including eligibility, what you’ll get and how to claim.

If you have substantial caring needs, your carer could get Carer’s Allowance.

Your pension

If you pay into a workplace pension scheme, or have in the past, you may be able to take your pension early if there is an ill-health retirement or medical retirement provision.

Furthermore, if you have been diagnosed with having less than a year to live, you may be able to take out all of your pension.

It’s important that before you make a decision about your pension you discuss your options with an independent financial adviser.

Check, too, if you have life insurance through work. If you’ve started taking out a pension or a lump sum, the payments to your beneficiaries from a workplace life insurance might not be paid out.

Protection from discrimination, harassment and victimisation

People with an incurable illness are protected from discrimination at work by the Equality Act 2010 in England. Your employer cannot treat you unfairly because of your condition. For example, it would be unlawful if your employer said you’re not suitable for promotion because of your illness.

If you think you are being treated unfairly, check your company’s grievance policy. If you are then having trouble resolving the issue, go to the Equality Advisory and Support Service .

Find out more

To get further support to understand your rights at work or what benefits might be available to you at what is already a difficult enough time, you could contact the following organisations.

  • Acas is an independent public body that provides free and impartial advice to employers, employees and their representatives, including employment rights related to health and wellbeing .
  • Banburyshire Advice Centre : if you live in Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire or Warwickshire and need help with a benefits claim, contact this independent charity set up to provide advice on benefits.
  • Citizens Advice, which provides information on your rights, including employment issues. If you live in north Oxfordshire or south Northamptonshire, visit Banbury & Brackley Citizens Advice .

Related pages

The EPiC Resource Centre is kindly sponsored by Cleenol: working for a cleaner, safer, kinder world.