IAIN Duncan Smith has been challenged to end “obscene” sanctions for benefits claimants who have already found work.

Under current rules, people on universal credit who successfully find work can still be sanctioned in the period between accepting a job and their starting day.

Now Glasgow Central MP Alison Thewliss has urged the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to change the “ridiculous” rule before the year is out.

The SNP cities spokesperson made the challenge after a constituent came to her for help.

The individual, who wants to remain anonymous, secured a role with Duncan Smith’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) – but was sanctioned by that same department while waiting to take up the post.

Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) said this is not an isolated case and is backing Thewliss’s call to close the loophole and establish an independent enquiry into the sanctions regime.

Thewliss says this is necessary to determine whether DWP decision-makers have sanctions targets, while CAS says the public must know if the system is achieving its stated aims.

In a letter seen by The National, Thewliss told Duncan Smith: “There is an unreasonable situation whereby someone – who is on universal credit – has been offered a job, is preparing to start their new job and can still, ridiculously be sanctioned in that intervening period.

“The response I received to my parliamentary question is less than satisfactory and uncovers a serious discrepancy in UK Government policy,which needs to be addressed urgently.

“I would urge you to show leadership and deal with this matter before the end of the year.”

Last month DWP minister Priti Patel told Thewliss any “requirements” placed on universal credit claimants who have found work is down to individual work coaches.

Thewliss told Duncan Smith: “That indicates to me a bit of a lottery for claimants and is based on how lucky you are to receive a sympathetic work coach. I am sure you would agree that this seems like an inconsistent and unfair way to run a social security system.

“This unjust situation would also indicate to me that the Government have a target driven sanctions agenda; I would be grateful if you could confirm whether this is the case.

“I urge you to issue urgent guidance to your staff to end this obscene sanction regime for universal credit claimants who are just trying to get on with life and work.”

Sanctions can be handed down to welfare claimants who do not comply with conditions set by the DWP, including missing jobcentre appointments or failing to seek work.

Last year the departments’s own figures revealed 58 per cent of people appealing sanctions were successful, compared to just 20 per cent before 2010 and earlier this year public services union PCS produced leaked emails from Jobcentre Plus managers which suggest a target system is in place, despite official denials.

Around 918,000 claimants were sanctioned between April 2013 and March 2014.

A report produced last year by CAS found 94 per cent of Scottish CAB advisors have experienced an increase in demand for help due to benefits sanctions since 2012.

Nine out of ten of those affected did not understand why their money had been stopped or how to avoid it happening again. Those under 25, disabled people and single people were the most likely to be affected.

In one recent case, West of Scotland CAB were approached by a client who had secured one part-time job at a school and another at a health clinic. But both roles required completed Disclosure checks before she could start work and, though the woman told the jobcentre she was waiting on her start dates, she was still sanctioned – first for two weeks, then for three months for not attending interviews with other employers.

Policy officer Rob Gowans said: “CABs often advise people whose benefits have been sanctioned unfairly. Often they don’t know they’ve been sanctioned until they go to get money out to find they haven’t been paid. People who have been sanctioned can be left with no money at all, meaning they are unable to travel for interviews or training or to buy mobile phone credit to contact employers.

“CAS believes there needs to be a fundamental and independent review of the purpose of the sanctions regime and the impact is has on individuals, families and other services.

“We also believe claimants should never be left without any income at all – hardship payments should be made automatically to make sure they are able to eat and heat their homes at the very least.”

A DWP spokesman said: “Claimant commitments are always tailored to individual circumstances. Because universal credit is an in-work as well as an out-of-work benefit, claimants continue to be eligible for support – to improve their wage and their hours – even when they move into a job.

“Alongside this, they are expected to continue fulfilling the conditions they agreed to in their claimant commitment as long as they are receiving benefits.”

The National View: Benefit sanctionsare the last resort of a cruel government