A charity says the local roll out of the Government’s controversial Universal Credit is already having a devastating effect on some claimants.
The East Durham Trust says it has helped scores of people who have moved onto the new system since it was introduced in the area last week.
It adds some claimants have been told they can expect no payment for at least one month.
The charity, based in Peterlee, provides crisis services such as emergency food parcels, debt advice and benefit checks.
Chief executive Malcolm Fallow said: “Sadly, the full impact of this ill-conceived benefit change has become apparent virtually overnight.
“As anticipated the demand on our services has increased with vulnerable people being expected to live on nothing for up to seven weeks.”
During half term the charity organised eight charity events under the banner of holiday hunger aimed at supporting children who rely on free school meals.
More than 400 youngsters accessed events in local community venues.
Mr Fallow added: “Of course we are not suggesting every meal provided went to a child affected by Universal Credit or poverty in general but we are acutely aware that for some of the kids these events were their only opportunity for a decent meal – that’s how bad things are becoming.”
Hartlepool was one of the first places in the country where Universal Credit was introduced in December last year.
Town MP Mike Hill and Easington MP Grahame Morris supported a Commons vote last month calling for the Government to pause the nationwide roll out so problems could be addressed.
Universal Credit has replaced six different benefits with a single monthly payment for people who are out of work or are on a low income.
Prime Minister Theresa May has said it is designed to be simpler for claimants and is working as more people were getting into work.