THE UK Government is under fire for giving 'no warning' benefit sanctions to tens of thousands of claimants over the past five years, according to a leading academic.

In nearly 300,000 cases, claimants have been hit with sanctions without being officially notified. The shocking figure includes an estimated 28,000 cases in Scotland. Campaigners warn that claimants are being left without any money and plunged into "crisis".

The figure has been calculated based on data released by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) by one of the UK’s leading sanctions experts, Dr David Webster, an honorary senior research fellow in urban studies at Glasgow University.

The DWP’s analysis found that in 2014, there were 47,239 sanction decisions – a total of 6.9% of all cases - where claimants of Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) had not been notified in writing.

The letters - which outline the sanction decision and the right to ask for a review and lodge an appeal – had not been sent out due to an administration error.

Webster has calculated that applying this percentage over the past five years shows there were around 279,000 cases where claimants had their benefit stopped without being officially notified.

The DWP has admitted the letters should have been sent out and is now writing to all those who did not receive the notification. However the correspondence will not include an apology for the error.

It has also changed procedures so that letters to notify of sanctions will now be triggered automatically instead of having to be sent out manually.

Webster said the figures published by the DWP were an “important admission” of the problem.

He said: “It is a very large number and it explains why so many of these cases are being thrown up in the various voluntary sector reports on sanctions.

“This is one of the commonest stories that people tell – that the first they knew about a sanction is when they went to the cash machine and there was no money.”

He added: “You can do an estimate of the number in Scotland and there would be around 28,000 occasions a sanction has been imposed without the claimant being notified.”

One case in a recent report from Citizens Advice Scotland highlighted how a man was sanctioned twice for failing to carry out enough job searches. He was initially only told he “might” be sanctioned and did not receive a letter explaining the reasons for the sanction. Without the letter it was impossible for him to request a review of the decision be carried out.

Another example reported by the Midlothian Financial Inclusion Network involved a woman who had been sanctioned for failing to attend a benefits-related medical appointment, even though she had not been notified of it. She only realised she had been sanctioned when her money was stopped and had to turn to the local foodbank for support.

John McArdle, of Scottish disability campaign group Black Triangle, which was set up to campaign against benefit cuts, said: “In these cases the first people know about it is they go to the bank and there is no money – it plunges them into crisis and you can imagine all the knock-on effects.”

SNP MP Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, who last week brought forward proposals for a bill to ensure that benefit claimants who have been sanctioned receive automatic hardship payments, said: “It’s simply not acceptable for people to be left destitute by our social security system, and especially not without warning.

“I’ve spoken to several constituents of mine who have been penalised in this way, and others who had not been informed of their entitlement to a hardship payment when they found themselves in this situation.”

She added: “These are just some of the main reasons behind my proposal to reform the current system, to ensure that that no-one would be left without any income following the sanctions process."

The DWP claimed the official letter is the “final stage” of the sanctions process and claimants would have been made aware that a sanction was being imposed beforehand through discussions with Jobcentre advisers.

A spokesman for the DWP said: “The vast majority of jobseekers do everything expected of them in return for their benefits, and accept the support on offer to move into work.

“There are now record levels of employment in the UK, and unemployment is back to pre-recession levels. The Jobcentre regime, of which sanctions are a part, has played an important role in this.

“We know that our sanctions system is robust, and we regularly review procedures to ensure it is operating as effectively as possible.”