People on benefits are being subjected to severe hardship and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is failing to learn from mistakes over sanctions, according to the Law Society of Scotland (LSS).

In a scathing response to the Work and Pensions Committee's inquiry into benefit sanctions, the Law Society suggests that the only reason the Government's policy is not an illegal breach of claimants' human rights is because charities step in to help the destitute with food banks.

The system fails to treat claimants with dignity and respect, the professional body for Scotland's solicitors adds.

While acknowledging that Government needs to be able to require people to look for work and that there may need to be sanctions for those who do not comply, the Society says the aim of the policy – to assist claimants in finding work – is not being achieved.

Instead "the most vulnerable people in society" are suffering real hardship, it says in its response to the committee.

Richard Henderson, convener of the LSS's Administrative Justice committee, said there was an urgent need for effective monitoring and a review of training provided for DWP staff.

"Best practice is not being developed through learning from appeal decisions and, in some individual cases, human rights may well have been breached," he added: “Reviewing decisions around sanctions, through mandatory reconsideration and through appeal to the First-tier Tribunal, is not sufficiently effective or speedy enough to be regarded as satisfactory means of redress.

“ It has long been apparent that there are some very serious issues to be examined in this area.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “We’re committed to ensuring that people get what they’re entitled to receive in benefits. But it is reasonable that people have to meet certain requirements in return for payments. Sanctions are only used in a small minority of cases when people don’t have a good reason for not doing what they agreed to do.”