HUNDREDS of sick and disabled people across Halton are struggling to make ends meet as they wait for their benefits to be assessed, claims Halton Citizens Advice Bureau.

The charity has been inundated with pleas for help from 853 people claiming employment and support allowance (ESA) in the past year.

Hitesh Patel, chief officer of Halton CAB says that benefit reforms have left people in Widnes and Runcorn without any financial support.

He is now callilng on the Government to make urgent changes to its fit to work assessment process Mr Patel said: “This is a failing system which stacks the odds against people in need of a helping hand.

“Anyone can suddenly find themselves facing major health problems and is then reliant on a system to support them that is currently not fit for purpose.

"It is totally unacceptable that people face inaccurate health assessments which can be made without a shred of medical evidence.

“The new and damaging red tape has made the system even worse. Starting from scratch on a different application while people wait to appeal can be stressful and completely inappropriate for those suffering with health problems."

He said claimants waiting for their ESA claims to be assessed are not given any financial support and are encouraged to apply for job seekers’ allowance.

But in many of the cases Halton CAB has dealt with, claimants have received conflicting messages from various agencies.

One disabled person was told they were not ill enough to claim ESA but was then informed by the job centre that they are too ill to sign on for job seekers’ allowance.

Mr Patel added: “Ministers must give residents of Halton some much needed support and make ESA fit for work.”