BENEFIT claimants are treated worse than criminals, with tougher financial penalties imposed on those who fall foul of benefit rules, according to a Glasgow University academic.

The analysis of sanctions for jobseekers allowance claimants deemed to have failed to meet requirements was compared unfavourably with the court system where people are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty.

Dr David Webster, Urban Studies senior research fellow at the university claimed Job Centre staff are assuming people are guilty and imposing heavy sanctions with no regard to circumstances.

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The former head of housing and planning at Glasgow City Council and House of Commons special adviser told the Scottish Parliament Welfare Reform Committee the emphasis had shifted from support to punishment.

Dr Webster said the lowest sanction was £286 compared to £200 for a level 1 court fine and the highest was £11,000 a £5000 maximum court fine.

He said: "The JSA scale of fines is higher than the mainstream court fines but with none of the protection the accused has in court like presumption of innocence, right to representation and background reports."

A DWP spokeswoman said:"It is only right that people claiming benefits should do everything they can to find work if they are able, but sanctions are used as a last resort and anyone who disagrees with a decision can appeal."