MORE than 8,500 people face being stripped of their disability benefits because of tough new tests.

The controversial automated assessment is designed to weed out bogus claimants – but critics say it is unreliable and an “appalling” way to treat disabled people.

Latest figures show that across the south, 5,350 tests have so far judged 1,500 people to be “fit to work” without any support.

There are about 31,000 people claiming incapacity benefit or its replacement, employment support allowance, the across Hampshire and Southampton council area.

And the initial results, published by Fareham MP and Employment Minister Mark Hoban, suggest at least 8,600 of these people will be told to find work once the full testing process has been completed.

The Department for Work and Pensions also said that well over a third of claimants – as high as 46 per cent in the New Forest – are being judged to be capable of working with support, while only between 31 to 36 per cent should continue to receive the payment with no conditions.

Southampton Itchen MP John Denham said: “The truth is, that nearly half of the people told they are fit for work appeal against the decision and end up winning their appeal.

“We have always known there are people able to work – the problem we are dealing with all the time is that there are people who are not fit for work, but who are told that they are.

“It’s appalling that people are being put through it.”

The Work Capability Assessments, carried out by French company Atos, were introduced by Labour in 2008 as an attempt to check whether people applying for disability benefits were in fact capable of work.

The Coalition Government then expanded them to existing claimants, saying too many people had been “condemned to a life on benefits”.

But the tests have been controversial, with disability charities calling for them to be suspended.

They have yielded some surprising results and critics said they failed to identify mental health conditions.

There has also been a high success rate in appeals against the test results, with about 40 per cent of rulings being overturned.

Ministers have now published figures showing the results of tests across Bristol between October 2010 and February 2012.

Mr Hoban said: “The old incapacity benefit system condemned too many people to a life on benefits without hope of ever going back to work. This was simply wrong.

"By reassessing everyone for ESA we can help thousands of people move from benefits and back into work if they are capable while giving unconditional support to those who need it.”