THOUSANDS of people disabled by multiple sclerosis have seen their benefits cut since a shake up to their welfare payments, according to a leading charity.

The MS Society said that figures it has obtained under freedom of information show that MS sufferers in the UK are at least £6 million a year worse off since Disability Living Allowance (DLA) began to be replaced by the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) in 2013.

The FOI revealed that one in three people - around 2,600 across the UK - who had previously received the highest rate mobility component of DLA had their payments downgraded or denied after being reassessed for PIP between October 2013 and October 2016.

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The criteria to qualify for the higher rate mobility component changed from being able to walk no more than 50 metres (164ft) to no more than 20 metres (66ft).

For those receiving the highest rate for the care part of DLA, nearly a quarter - 800 people - faced cuts under PIP’s equivalent ‘daily living’ component.

The charity calculated that a loss of at least £4,867,200 a year from all those receiving the highest rate of the mobility component and £1,141,920 a year from those on the highest rate of care.

Scotland is likely to be the worst hit as the prevalence of MS is much higher than in other parts of the UK, with around 209 cases per 100,000 compared to 164 per 100,000 in England and 138 per 100,000 in Wales. Studies have also found much higher incidences further north, such as 402 cases per 100,000 on Orkney.

Genevieve Edwards, director of external affairs at the MS Society, said: “These staggering figures show how PIP is failing some of the most vulnerable people with MS who need the highest level of support. It doesn’t make sense that people are losing money they once qualified for, when they are living with a progressive condition that will never improve.”

The charity said it is concerned that fewer people are able to access appropriate support under PIP because assessments do not properly consider how symptoms can change and fluctuate.

The Department for Work and Pensions said many claimants were now better off.

A DWP spokeswoman said: “Under PIP, 36 per cent more MS claimants receive the highest rate of support than under DLA. We recognise symptoms of MS can fluctuate over time, and regular reassessments mean we can ensure people with degenerative conditions get the help they need as their condition changes.

"Assessments consider illnesses which affect sufferers during the majority of days in a year, rather than just on someone’s 'best days' or assessing ability on a single day."