AN MP has warned former miners not to fall victim to unscrupulous claims handlers trying to cash in on the introduction of a new benefit.

Thousands of former miners in the region who suffer from osteoarthritis of the knee as a result of working down the pits will be able to claim industrial injury benefit from Monday if they are eligible.

The Government announced earlier this year that the condition, known as miners knee, would be added to a list of prescribed diseases under the Industrial Injury Disablement Benefit scheme.

North Durham MP Kevan Jones urged former miners to apply and stressed that they did not need to involve solicitors or claims handlers.

He said he already heard reports of claims handlers charging up to 100 for help with filling in the claim form.

The MP has previously been critical of some solicitors who claimed hundreds of thousands of pounds in legal fees from ex-miners and their families for processing lung and Vibration White Finger claims, when the Government paid all the costs for these schemes.

Mr Jones said people could apply for the new benefit through their local Job Centre Plus or Citizens Advice, or if they wished by contacting him directly.

He said: "I am concerned and my advice would be dont fall for it.

"There is no need to pay any money or get involved with solicitors or claims handlers. All you have to do initially is to fill in a form.

"This is a benefit paid direct to the claimant, like incapacity benefit or job seekers allowance."

Anyone planning to apply will have to have worked ten years or more underground in coal mines before 1986.

However time spent underground after 1986 may also count towards the ten years, depending on the type of work done and whether it was carried out in a non-mechanised environment.

Men who believe they have the disease, and satisfy the occupational requirements, will be assessed by a medical advisor who will judge the extent of their disablement and how much of their work as a miner was responsible.

Those who qualify will be able to claim industrial injuries disablement benefit worth up to 143.60 a week.

A Department of Work and Pensions spokesman said the number of claims may run into thousands nationally, although he added: "We have no way of knowing exactly how many people will claim."

:: A separate legal action brought by mining unions hopes to eventually force the Government to accept liability and pay damages for miners knee which is caused by prolonged kneeling and crawling underground.