THE Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is wrong-fully withholding hundreds of thousands of pounds in benefits that disabled people are entitled to receive, according to a Scottish charity.

The Glasgow Disability Alliance, (GDA) made its claims as its ground-breaking welfare rights project – helping disabled people navigate the hostile benefits system – revealed it has claimed back almost half a million pounds from the UK Government’s welfare department.

READ MORE: New single benefit assessment test would be ‘huge leap forward’

Rights Now was launched by the charity last September in response to the additional barriers that it saw its disabled members facing in successfully claiming the additional benefits they were entitled to because of physical and mental health conditions.

Figures shared with the Sunday National last week show that welfare rights advisors successfully claimed back £475,506 in benefits, including personal independence payments (PIP), employment support allowance (ESA) and disability living allowance (DLA) between September and the end of April.

The National:

The project, funded by Glasgow City Council, expects to cross the £500,000 mark this month, and the charity claims it is evidence that with the right support disabled people can take on the system – and win.

Chief executive Tressa Burke said: “Our evidence from the Rights Now project has shown that people in this system need support to get what they are entitled to – and that they are mainly entitled to the benefit.

“People are being battered round the head by this system. These welfare reforms are coming in a context of disabled people having their care packages cut, cuts to employability support, cuts to services in communities that support people and shore them up.”

READ MORE: Scotland's major benefit challenge has ‘still to come’, says watchdog

She called for all disabled Scots to have access to a similar support project, which currently is not widely available.

“Disabled people need extra support to deal with the brutal processes that the DWP and the UK Government have dished out to them,” she added. “Too many people cannot access that.”

Florence Garabedian, chief executive of Lothian Centre for Inclusive Living, said its Grapevine project had also evidenced that people were struggling to access benefits they were entitled to without support.

The charity – which made successful benefit claims of worth £200,000 in the last financial year – has just received funding for an appeals project to increase its capacity. Currently, staff don’t have time to help everyone who approaches the project.

The National:

THE negative impact of benefits such as PIP was substantial, she claimed, with people it has helped feeling they are “a financial burden to society”.

“Some people losing the mobility component and therefore seeing a whole ability to remain independent disappear,” she added. “We’ve heard of people committing suicide.”

Iain Smith, policy officer at Inclusion Scotland, said that there was a strong argument that all disabled people should have an independent advocate when claiming benefits, such as PIP.

“There is considerable evidence that PIP applications, redeterminations or appeals are more likely to be successful when supported by an independent advocate,” he added. “That is why Inclusion Scotland supported an amendment to the Social Security (Scotland) Act that will give disabled people a right to independent advocacy when applying for Scottish Disability Assistance.”

He said the lack of support was particularly stark for disabled people living in rural areas where funding cuts meant independent advocacy was not available.

A DWP spokesman said: “We are committed to ensuring people get the right decision on their claim and will continue to look at how we can improve the process.”