DURHAM County Council's welfare rights team has helped people claim £7.5m in benefit payments they might otherwise have missed out on.

The team's work also saved the council an additional £4.36m by using its expertise to fund services through the social security system, rather than council tax income.

The team says the year to march was "a bumper one" as it helped people apply for benefits they did not know they could claim and overcome difficulties in getting the money.

"It has been another record year for us," said Scott McInally, leader of the welfare rights team. "For every £1 it cost to run the team during the year, we brought an extra £9 into the county, so we are providing value for money as well as cash-earning expertise."

Officers help claimants access a wide range of social security benefits by providing advice and information, checking people's eligibility, running local advice surgeries and representing claimants at appeal tribunals.

During the year, they ran campaigns to encourage people to claim pension credits and benefits for people who are terminally ill.

Council leader Ken Manton said: "The work carried out by our welfare rights team and the success it achieves is a vital element in the social and economic well-being of County Durham.

"Its efforts and the benefits they bring promote social inclusion, help those who need it most, boost the local economy and relieve ill health and social care needs."

The team dealt with more than 6,000 telephone advice calls and represented claimants, who had claims rejected or benefit reduced or removed, at nearly 1,000 appeal tribunals.