More than one in 20 Universal Credit claimants searching for work have been sanctioned in East Hampshire, new research shows.
The figures come as a think tank calls on the Government to pause benefit sanctions until inflation is brought under control.
Analysis of Home Office data by the Institute for Public Policy Research, a think tank, shows 1,272 people receiving Universal Credit in East Hampshire were deemed to be 'looking for work' as of November – 106 (8.3%) of which had been sanctioned.
Evidence suggests people are most often sanctioned due to missing Jobcentre appointments.
Across the country, around 100,000 people have had their Universal Credit payments cut.
For those classed as searching for work, more than one in 13 had been sanctioned – double the rate before the pandemic.
Henry Parkes, senior economist at the IPPR, said: “Sanction rates are climbing rapidly, and it seems your chances of being sanctioned are largely down to the temperament of your local Jobcentre.
"We already know that sanctions can push people into destitution, so as the cost-of-living crisis continues it is urgent that the government pauses, rather than expands, its sanctions regime while it investigates what’s driving the rise and variation in sanction rates.
The rate varies significantly between local areas – ranging from 2.9% of recipients in Broadland, Norfolk to 13% in Knowsley in Merseyside.
The figures show people in the North of England are far more likely to face benefit sanctions – with the North East (9.2%), North West (9%) and Yorkshire and the Humber (8.8%) topping the list of worst-impacted regions.
The South East, meanwhile, had 7.2% penalised as of November – among the lowest of any region of the UK.
The IPPR would like to see benefit sanctions halted during the cost-of-living crisis.
“To press ahead instead with even tougher sanctions when the existing system is already something of a postcode lottery, and when everyone is struggling with rising living costs, would be both foolish and unfair,” Mr Parkes added.
The report says there is not enough clarity on why jobseekers on Universal Credit are having their benefits cut, or for the significant regional differences.
In the spring Budget, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced the sanctions regime is to be "strengthened", particularly for those failing to look for work.
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: “Our priority is to help people find and move into work and the latest figures show an overwhelming amount - 97.6% - of sanctions are applied simply due to claimants failing to attend mandatory appointments, not for failing to undertake work search requirements.”
“Sanctions can often quickly be resolved by the claimant re-engaging with the Jobcentre and attending the next appointment,” they added.