A Hartlepool advice service has hit out at court officials for moving benefit appeal hearings out of town.
Managers at Citizens Advice Hartlepool fear people challenging changes to various benefits will not follow through with their appeals.
Claimants in town have been written to by HM Courts and Tribunals Service telling them that appeal hearings will no longer be heard at Hartlepool Magistrates and County Court due to it closing early this year.
Tribunal hearings for benefit appeals have been held for many years now in the magistrates court building in Hartlepool town centre.
Manager Joe Michna said: “We had no warning of this decision and we were also not aware of any consultation carried out by HM Courts and Tribunals Service before they made a decision to relocate to Middlesbrough.
“Many people who attend these appeal hearings have disabilities and are in poor health.
Moving the tribunal hearings to Middlesbrough will put many of these people at a disadvantage and may discourage some from attending the hearingsJoe Michna, Citizens Advice Hartlepool
“Moving the tribunal hearings to Middlesbrough will put many of these people at a disadvantage and may discourage some from attending the hearings.”
In a letter to the court service the advice service says it has been contacted by a number of concerned clients.
It raises travel difficulties, especially for people with disabilities, general inconvenience and the fear that claimants will not follow through with their appeals.
The advice service wants another venue in Hartlepool to be found, even offering its own premises in Park Road.
Mr Michna added: “We are therefore asking the bosses at HM Courts and Tribunals Service to review their decision.
“We hope that they will take our request seriously and put the interests of local people first by finding a suitable venue in Hartlepool.”
The types of appeals held at the court related to social security benefits such as Employment and Support Allowance, The Personal Independence Payment, Jobseekers Allowance and Income Support.
The Ministry of Justice announced the closure of Hartlepool’s court building in February last year as part of a nationwide review.
An HM Courts and Tribunal Service spokesperson said: “We have a world-leading legal system and are investing over £1 billion to reform and digitise our courts to deliver swifter justice.
“Closing underused and dilapidated court buildings will allow us to reinvest in the justice system and make the best use of technology.
“This will improve access to justice and improve the experience for all court users, in particular vulnerable victims and witnesses.”