FEARS have been raised that Moray’s most vulnerable residents are struggling to fight controversial benefits assessments on their own.
Campaigner Davie Stewart said more resources need to be found to help those undertaking Personal Independence Payments (Pip) appeals.
Moray Council’s benefits appeal service, which is funded by the local authority, can only take on a limited number of cases a week and there is rising demand.
A council spokesman confirmed the authority is looking at ways to increase capacity to help more people, but stressed that individuals can complete the forms on their own.
Mr Stewart, who lives in Lossiemouth, said: "People are going through this process of having to appeal a Pip assessment and thought help would be there to guide them through the process. That help is not there for everyone at the moment as there are two people on the council team and they are dealing with vast numbers.
"These are the most vulnerable people in our society and they are finding themselves in an impossible situation."
The issue affects those making the transition from Disability Living Allowance to Pip, which includes a new assessment process as part of the UK Government’s benefit reform.
An appeal is made when a client disagrees with the assessment made by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and after a mandatory reconsideration is undertaken. It is decided by a tribunal panel in Inverness, to which a written submission is made. A spokesman for the local authority said: "This year we’ll complete 290 benefit appeals on behalf of our clients – the majority of these are likely to be for Pip.
"We can only take on a limited number of clients per week to make sure we can complete casework on time.
"We have an 83 per cent success rate for the appeals we submit and a 96 per cent customer satisfaction rate. Each year our appeals service helps deliver an additional £1.7 million in benefits to clients in Moray. "There is an increasing demand for this service and while we currently have two full-time members of staff dedicated to appeals, we’re looking at ways we can increase capacity. It’s important to note though, that anyone making a PIP appeal does not have to come through our service to do so – these can be lodged directly."
Mr Stewart said many of those impacted need help to ensure they present the best case before the panel.
He said: "The appeal process is that complicated that disabled people are looking for help, especially with written submissions to the appeals board that you go in front of.
"You have much more chance of winning your appeal if you have a team that is there to help you write the submission to the panel.
"We are speaking about cancer victims, stroke victims, people with dementia and all the rest of it.
"They are left wondering what is going on and they are absolutely bereft having to face this appeal process without any help whatsoever.
"I understand they are overwhelmed by the vast numbers of people that are having to go through the appeal process but more resources need to be allocated to this team so the help is available. There is a whole section of society whose best interests are not being served just now."
Moray Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) said helping people with PIP appeals is among the many services it offers.
Manager designate Mary Riley said: "Clients come for all manner of reasons and one of those reasons is asking for help with an appeal.
"If they don’t get the benefit we can help them with the next stage which is called a mandatory reconsideration, and that is where the client will be asking the DWP to look at the decision again.
"Then, if the client still isn’t awarded their benefit the next stage is to appeal to a tribunal. So what we can do if clients come to us at that point is help them to draft a written statement. We don’t physically go with the client to the tribunal, we draft a written statement that they can send to the tribunal in an attempt to support their argument."
National Ministry of Justice figures from January to March this year show that 64% of PIP appeals found in favour of the customer.