People living with disabilities and serious illnesses are suffering financial hardship and extreme stress caused by a benefits system, a report has found.

Advice Brighton and Hove uncovered “entrenched problems at every stage of the Employment Support Allowance (ESA) process”.

The benefit supports ill and disabled people who are unable to work.

In 2013 more than 3,000 people in Brighton and Hove appealed the outcome of their work capability assessment (WCA) and more than half (54%) won their case.

In one case a vulnerable woman with a history of mental health problems attempted suicide after being told she was fit for work and that her benefits would stop.

Delays, traumatic assessments and people being left without money following wrong decisions were highlighted, with advice agencies seeing a huge rise in people approaching them about ESA.

Author of the report, Tess Craven, said: “These problems are impacting some of the most vulnerable people in Brighton and Hove.

“They are also affecting frontline advice agencies at a time when we face massive funding cuts.”

Thousands of ill and disabled people across the city claim ESA which replaces the outgoing incapacity benefit. Most have to attend a WCA to see if they are fit for work.

The report said both claimants and advisors felt the work capability assessments were “not fit for purpose”.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “We think it is right to look at whether people can do some kind of work with the right support – rather than just writing them off on long-term sickness benefits, as has happened in the past.

“Through a series of independent reviews and by working with medical experts and charities, we have continuously improved the WCA since it was introduced in 2008 to ensure that it is fair and accurate.

“We have also introduced mandatory reconsideration to enable incorrect decisions to be changed at the earliest possible opportunity.

“This removes the need for often costly and protracted appeals which lead to delays in people getting the benefits they have applied for.”