DEMANDS for an immediate moratorium on Iain Duncan Smith’s benefit sanctions regime, first reported in The National, have been backed by the SNP.

The party has urged the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition to suspend the system following a damning report published earlier this week by a Commons select committee that questioned whether sanctions had any positive impact on people finding work.

The controversial policy was introduced under the Welfare Reform Act 2012 and stops claimants receiving Jobseeker's or Employment and Support Allowance for a minimum of four weeks if they break strict rules relating to looking for work such as missing or being late for an interview or work place appointment.

The National reported yesterday that Citizens Advice Scotland chief executive Margaret Lynch and a senior academic, Dr David Webster from Glasgow University, were calling for a moratorium on sanctioning while a full review is undertaken.

Last night the SNP backed their demand and also called for a fundamental review of the sanctions system following suggestions that Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) staff had been pressurised into applying sanctions.

SNP MSP Kevin Stewart, a member of Holyrood’s welfare reform committee, said: “Westminster’s sanctions regime is causing hardship and misery for far too many people across Scotland. There needs to be a root-and-branch review of the policy and the DWP should not be allowed to impose any more unfair sanctions on vulnerable people while the review is ongoing.

“An immediate moratorium is the only way to ensure more people aren’t suffering from the imposition of these sanctions unnecessarily – and could go some way to restoring a semblance of faith in the welfare system which has let too many people down in recent years.”

He added: “Organisations like Citizens Advice Scotland see the impact of the unfair sanctions first-hand in communities across the country – and so their call for an immediate moratorium should make Westminster sit up and take notice. The DWP needs to listen to the experts and those on the front line and put an end to their punitive, indefensible sanctions policy.

“Westminster’s complacent attitude to the savage welfare cuts that are inflicting such hardship on so many people underlines why they can’t be allowed to take welfare decisions on Scotland’s behalf any more.”

MPs have called for a full independent review of the benefit sanctions regime – brought in by Duncan Smith, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions – in the next parliament amid growing fears of their impact on vulnerable claimants. On Monday Dame Anne Begg, the Scots Labour MP and chairwoman of the Commons’ welfare and pensions’ committee, said: “Benefit sanctions are controversial because they withhold subsistence-level benefits from people who may have little or no other income.

“We agree that benefit conditionality is necessary but it is essential that policy is based on clear evidence of what works in terms of encouraging people to take up the support which is available to help them get back into work.

“The policy must then be applied fairly and proportionately. The system must also be capable of identifying and protecting vulnerable people, including those with mental health problems and learning disabilities. And it should avoid causing severe financial hardship. The system as currently applied does not always achieve this.”

More than 80,000 out-of-work Scots have had their benefits stopped for a minimum of four weeks since the new sanctions regime was introduced just more than two years ago.

The DWP has rejected calls for a sanctions moratorium, arguing that they a “vital backstop” in the welfare system and used only in a minority of cases.