THOUSANDS of jobs in the North-East may be lost as part of a Government review of the civil service.

Benefits offices across the region will close and three super processing centres will be created in Newcastle, Sunderland and Stockton.

A trade union predicts almost 1,300 jobs will be affected in the benefits processing section of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

The department is also planning to stop processing pensions at the Stockton pension Centre at Tees Buildings.

The Public and Commercial Services Union said the move would cut a further 300 jobs.

Massive cuts are expected in other DWP departments, such as JobCentre Plus.

It is part of Chancellor Gordon Brown's drive to streamline the DWP by reducing employee numbers from 130,000 to 100,000 nationally.

In the North-East, the department has 14,000 workers and unions fear thousands face the axe ahead of the 2008 deadline.

The Public and Commercial Services Union assistant branch secretary, Steve Richardson, said: "This is a substantial amount of job losses and the morale of staff is at rock bottom.

"Since the announcements were made, people have been leaving and applying for other jobs.

"This has left entire sections short-staffed because the people who are leaving are not being replaced, which puts an extra burden on those remaining."

Mr Richardson said people were being encouraged to use the Internet or computerised telephone systems for benefits inquiries.

Mr Richardson said: "People want face-to-face contact and feel more confident their benefit is being sorted.

"Take that away and where then is the sense of community? It will hit the most vulnerable people in society."

A public meeting about the closures is being held at East Stanley Working Men's Club, on June 21, at 7pm.

The DWP said local benefits offices were being merged with its JobCentre Plus project and people would still be able to get advice in person there. It confirmed 90 jobs were being lost with the closure of Vinovium House, in Bishop Auckland, but could not say how elsewhere would be affected.

A spokesman for the DWP said: "We do not yet know what the final impact will be on the region. Compulsory redundancies will be a last resort."