Hundreds of workers in Lewisham are claiming Universal Credit as their low wages are not enough to live on.

Specialists say this is due to high housing and living costs, which are forcing more residents below the breadline.

According to Department for Work and Pensions figures, there were 1,247 employed claimants in Lewisham on Universal Credit in July – about 37 per cent of the total.

Overall, there were 3,413 people on Universal Credit in Lewisham, 118 more than in the previous month.

Universal Credit is a new benefit, slowly being rolled out by the Government, which replaces six legacy benefits and merges them into one payment.

It includes income support, jobseeker’s allowance, employment and support allowance, housing benefit, child tax credits, and working tax credits.

The idea of Universal Credit was to simplify the benefits system, however problems with its introduction have reportedly forced benefit claimants into hardship.

Unite the Union Community Greenwich, Lewisham chairman Alan Hall said the benefits system was “creating a hostile environment for people who claim it and is not fit for purpose.”

“Despite knowing that Universal Credit causes serious problems for those claiming it the government is ploughing ahead regardless while claimants are descending further into debt, relying on food banks and getting into rent arrears and in many cases are being evicted from their homes,” he said.

He said there were a number of barriers in place making it harder for residents to receive the money they were entitled to.

“In order to claim Universal Credit claimants need an internet connection which many simply can’t afford,” he explained.

“Unite is demanding a cut in the long waits to receive money, for people to be able to apply in job centres, not just online, better help for people when the system fails, landlords to be paid directly to avoid people getting into rent arrears and losing their homes, an end to benefit sanctions for people in and out of work,” he said.

The plan was to roll out Universal Credit by 2017, but a series of management failures meant the Government has put off the completion until 2023.