BARCLAYS Bank staff found out their jobs were being axed after one worker spotted their office was up for rent while searching online for a home.

With the cat out of the bag, bosses were forced to reveal their plans to close the Southampton claims processing centre with the loss of 264 jobs.

It comes as a fresh blow to the city’s economy, which is reeling from more than 1,500 job losses in the past year alone.

Last night unions vowed to fight for good payoffs while city business leaders pleaded with the bank to help their former staff find work.

After rumours began circulating, staff at the centre in Ocean Village, which deals with claims from people who believe they were mis-sold Payment Protection Insurance (PPI), were quickly gathered together to hear their worst fears confirmed.

Some of them found out they would be losing their jobs in July while on holiday with their children during half term.

A formal 90-day consultation period on job losses has been launched.

One staff member, who did not want to be named, said: “People are feeling upset and worried but also let down.

“As a whole we are a very powerful team and very passionate about hitting every single target.

“A lot of the older people are worried about their lives now.

“My worry now is that the job market will be flooded with people all with the same background.”

The dole queue in Southampton now stands at 5,530 people, or 3.4 per cent.

The city job centre has four people for every job vacancy.

In over a year there have been more than 800 job losses at British Gas, Skandia and Zurich, 230 from the city council and nearly 500 at the Ford Transit plant in Swaythling.

Southampton Itchen Labour MP John Denham said: “I think this will be devastating news for the people affected and they are bound to think they are paying a high price for the mismanagement of Barclays Bank, partly because of events leading up to the banking crisis and for the way it mis-sold PPI.”

But Barclays Bank, which last year posted pre-tax profits of £7bn, denied the closure was a cost-cutting measure to recoup the huge amount of PPI money it was shelling out – which so far has cost it £2.6bn.

It said it took the decision to move because the lease on the two and a half floors that the centre occupies expires in September this year and that it was not prepared to take on a longer lease because it expects to deal with most of the PPI claims.

A spokesman said: “This proposal affects 264 people, 157 permanent staff and 107 on temporary contracts.

“Barclays will do everything possible to assist the employees put at risk of redundancy today.

“This assistance will include ongoing training, career transition support, including opportunities for redeployment to other parts of Barclays, and a comprehensive package should employees be made redundant as a last resort.”

About 65 staff in Barclay’s corporate banking will remain in Ocean Way office.

Ciaran Naidoo, from the union Unite, said: “The overall position is that we are demanding that Barclays does everything possible to find suitable alternative employment for all the staff at the site and Unite will be doing everything possible to support our members.”

Jimmy Chestnutt, chief executive of Hampshire Chamber of Commerce, said the decision was “sad news”

for the city’s economy.

He said: “Jobs lost are difficult to replace and this is not good for the Southampton economy, but I would expect that Barclays will do all that they can to help those staff find new employment with appropriate re-training and provide all of the support that they can.”