HUNDREDS have backed a campaign to save a highly skilled Barrow team who process claims for disability benefits and industrial illnesses.

Phoenix House in Barrow has been put at risk of closure under plans by the Department for Work and Pensions to shut and relocate several health assessment offices and job centres across Britain.

Around 80 members of staff are based at the Stephen Street site, specialising in working with individuals with industrial diseases such as mesothelioma. Many workers have been left fearing they will be made redundant if they cannot move to another DWP site.

A petition has been set up on calling on the government to save Phoenix House and retain the expertise in the local area.

It has so far collected more than 600 signatures, with people from across the country, and some from as far away as Australia, adding their support the campaign by the Cumbrian branch of the Public and Communication Services Union.

The petition states: "Over 1,000 combined years of experience helping victims of asbestos related lung diseases and industrial disease will be lost.

"Excellent working relationships with asbestos support groups, unions and charities will end.

"Industrial disease has had and continues to have a devastating effect on workers and families throughout the country meaning this proposed closure could have an effect on every worker in the land."

Click here to view the petition

Campaigners believe the facility must stay local as the Barrow borough has the highest rate of mortality for mesothelioma in England at 14.3 deaths per 100,000 people - triple the national average.

Phoenix House, Barrow. Exposure to asbestos, which was once commonly used in the shipbuilding industry and in older construction methods, can cause the rare malignant lung cancer of mesothelioma to form many years later.

Workers at Phoenix House processes claims for welfare support such as the Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit, the Constant Attendance Allowance, and the 2008 Mesothelioma Scheme.

READ MORE: Fears waiting times for disability benefits will increase if Barrow centre closure gets green light

Bob Pointer, chair of Cumbria Asbestos Related Disease Support (CARDS), is worried about the impact any closure will have on the group which meets monthly in Barrow.

He said: "It means we wouldn't have a specialist benefit office for the worst affected area for asbestos in the country."

The decision to close Phoenix House is out for consultation but if it gets the green light then the closure will take place by March 2018.

The government is shrinking the DWP estate and merging offices to close "under-used" buildings and save money.

Watch the video below for more on CARDS