THREE-hundred households in Southampton are claiming benefits of more than £26,000 a year, the Daily Echo can reveal.

The annual income is the equivalent of a gross salary of £35,000 – more than £10,000 higher than the average city wage.

It is the first time the local impact of the Government’s controversial benefits cap, which was finally agreed in the House of Lords last week, has been known.

Ministers believe a limit is needed to ensure nobody is better off claiming welfare when they could be in work.

But critics have branded the onesize- fits-all £26,000 cap “arbitrary”, warning it could make people homeless in high-rent areas.

The figures, rounded to the nearest 100, are contained in a parliamentary answer due to be released later this week.

Among the 300 claimants in Southampton, around 100 will be the biggest losers from the cap because they earn at least £100 a week over the proposed limit – giving them an annual income of at least £31,000.

In the Hampshire County Council area and Isle of Wight, the number affected was less than 100. There are 200 claimants above £26,000 a year in Portsmouth.

Officials estimate 67,000 households will be affected across the country, losing on average £83 a week.

Some benefits are not included in the total, including disability living allowance and war widow payments.

Most of those affected are in London, because high rental costs drive up housing benefit. Many areas of the north have been barely affected due to lower living costs.

The benefit cap was initially thrown out by the House of Lords after opposition from bishops, Lib Dem rebels and Labour peers.

But after Government concessions, including new measures to support people who have just lost their jobs, peers approved the move.

John Denham, Labour MP for Southampton Itchen, backed the principle of a cap, but said it should vary across the country – meaning people could claim more in the south-east than the north.

He said: “We are very concerned about the way this is being implemented.”