A FRONTLINE charity fighting poverty in Inverclyde has secured a whopping £62 million in unclaimed welfare benefits for the area's most vulnerable people.

Financial Fitness put a record £6m into the pockets of those in need, including people with physical and mental disabilities, in the last year alone.

Their success since setting up 20 years ago has won the backing of the UK's leading money saving expert Martin Lewis, who has praised their 'incredible achievements'.

The eight-strong team take on around 2,000 new clients every year warn that demand for their services is set to increase as the welfare cuts get worse.

In a letter publicly backing Financial Fitness and the large sums of money they have secured, TV star Mr Lewis said: "That is an incredible achievement, absolutely superb.

"Thankfully the people of Inverclyde are protected, helped and given good advice.

"We are in a very difficult times at at the moment, people are struggling just to make ends meet.

"I hope you take a moment to pat yourself on the back, take a deep breath and be very proud of the work that you are doing."

Financial Fitness office manager Jennifer Farnham, has spent the last 18 years helping people get the benefits and financial support they are entitled to.

She said: "We get a lot of older people who come to us and we help them get extra money.

"But they are scared to spend it in case they are not entitled to it and end up in trouble.

"We are getting more and more people coming to us who are working and struggling - there is a lot of in-work poverty out there.

"We also get a lot of older people needing help."

An annual report covering 2017-2018 shows the support the team have offered in one year.

The majority of people they help suffer from physical and mental health problems.

Over a 12 month period 1,000 of their clients were disabled and 566 senior citizens while 339 lived in workless households and 372 were employed.

Just under were on the controversial Universal Credit and 455 were on employment support allowance.

During the year advisers secured £1m in employment support allowance and personal independence payments worth £1.7million.

People on Universal Credit were a total of £550,000 better off thanks to Financial Fitness.

Sixty five per cent of people using the service come from the poorest areas in Inverclyde, mostly east central Greenock and Port Glasgow.

Jennifer added: "There has been huge upheaval with welfare reforms and there are massive changes still to come.

"Universal Credit has been a real problem for people.

"The legacy benefits are very complicated.

"Universal Credit can be a good benefit once you are on it and it is working right.

"It is the delay in the first payment and you are already in arrears that causes problems.

"The problem overall with benefits is people don't know what they are entitled to and they have no idea what to do."

Financial Fitness, who run outreach services in the Carers' Centre, at Oak Tree Housing and with the Community Development Trust, also offer a money advice service.

Advisor Ian Gallacher, who has worked in banks, said: "|You get to know your clients and it is very emotional when you are able to help them.

"It is the best job I have ever had."

Over the year the advice service, based in West Stewart Street, helped write off £163,00 worth of debts and managed to secure £850,474 worth of pension payments.

Since setting up in 1999 they have gone from securing £300,000 in their first year to last year's £6m haul.

Over the last five years the result has amounted to £15 million.

Their annual report says: "Staff regularly advise and assist people under tremendous strain due to factors such as disability, ill health, poverty, debt or terminal illness.

"It is both humbling and rewarding to be involved in such people's lives."

Financial Fitness is sponsored by the Big Lottery, the local health and social care partnership, Inverclyde Council, the local housing association forum, the Robertson Trust, Comic Relief, Scottish Legal Aid Board, the Scottish Government and the Bank of Scotland Foundation.