The Department for Work and Pensions has admitted making up comments from supposed "benefit claimants" that appeared in a leaflet about sanctions.
The leaflet, which has now been withdrawn, included positive example stories from people who claimed to have interacted with the sanctions system.
In one example, titled "Sarah's story", a jobseeker is quoted as being "really pleased" after a cut to her benefits supposedly encouraged her to re-draft her CV.
"It's going to help me when I'm ready to go back to work," the fabricated quote reads.
Another, by a benefit claimant supposedly called "Zac", details the sanctions system working well.
But in response to a freedom of information request by the Welfare Weekly website the DWP said the quotes were not actually real cases and that the photos were not of real claimants.
“The photos used are stock photos and along with the names do not belong to real claimants. The stories are for illustrative purposes only," the department said.
The leaflet, a copy of which is available in full at Welfare Weekly, contains no suggestion that the stories are not real.
The revelation is controversial because the sanctions system has been criticised for causing extreme hardship and being operated in an unfair and arbitrary way.
In March this year Parliament's Work and Pensions Select Committee said there was evidence that sanctions were geared towards punishing people for being unemployed and might not actually help them find work.
What does five more years of the Tories mean for Britain?
What does five more years of the Tories mean for Britain?
1/8 Welfare payments will be slashed
One of the most controversial parts of the Conservative manifesto was to cut benefits for the working age poor by £12 bn over the next three years. But during the campaign they only said where £2 bn of these savings would come from. That leaves £10 bn still to find. Some experts think the only way they can close that gap is by means testing child benefit – with millions of families losing out
2/8 There will be tax cuts for those in work and those who die
The Tories will increase the threshold at which the 40p rate of tax becomes payable to £50,000 by 2020. They haven’t said so but it is also likely that at some point in the next five years they will abolish that 45p rate of tax altogether for the highest earners. They also want to increase the effective inheritance tax threshold for married couples and civil partners to £1m
3/8 There will be an in/out EU referendum in 2017
The next two years are going to be dominated by the prospect of a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. First off David Cameron has the daunting task of negotiating a deal with other EU leaders an acceptable deal that he can sell to his party so he can go into the referendum campaigning for a ‘yes’ vote. This may be unachievable and it is possible that the Tories may end up arguing to leave. Opinion polls show Britain is divided on EU membership, one poll this year showed 51% said they would opt to leave compared to 49% who would vote to stay in
4/8 There will be more privatisation of the NHS
Having won the election the Tories now have a mandate to go further and faster reforming the NHS. In order to make cost savings there is likely to be greater private involvement in running services, while some smaller hospitals may lose services they currently provide like A&E and maternity units
5/8 There will be many more free schools – and traditional state schools will become a thing of the past
The Tories plans to create 500 new free schools and make 3,000 state schools become academies. They will also carry on reforming the Department of Education and remove more powers from local authorities over how schools are run
6/8 On shore wind farms will be a thing of the past and fracking will be the future
Government spending on renewable energy is under real threat now the Lib Dems are no longer in power with the Tories. Subsidies are likely to be slashed for off-shore wind farm and other green energy supplies. Meanwhile there will be generous tax break for fracking as ministers try and incentivise the industry to drill for onshore oil and gas
7/8 There maybe more free childcare – but not necessarily
In the campaign the Tories pledged to double the amount of free early education for three- and four-year-olds from 15 hours a week to 30. The extra hours would only be offered to working families where parents are employed for at least eight hours a week. However they have not said where the money will come from to fund the pledge
8/8 Workers' rights could be reduced
The Tories want to slash business regulation, merge regulator and cut costs. The Lib Dems stopped them from reducing the employment rights of workers in power – but these are now under threat
The MPs said there was evidence that the benefit cuts for unemployed people caused more problems than they solved and might be "purely punitive".
Previous widely-criticised decisions include people being sanctioned for missing jobcentre appointments because they had to attend a job interview, or people sanctioned for not looking for work because they had already secured a job due to start in a week’s time.
In one case a man with heart problems was sanctioned because he had a heart attack during a disability benefits assessment and thus failed to complete the assessment.
Charities including Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation say the sanctions are responsible for a significant increase in homelessness and rough sleeping in Britain under David Cameron's government.
Mark Serwotka, the general secretary of the PCS union, told The Independent that the department's actions were "sinister".
"It's disgraceful and sinister that DWP has been trying to trick people into believing claimants are happy to have their benefits stopped or threatened. Sanctions are unnecessarily punitive and counterproductive, and should be scrapped," he said.
Dan Scorer, Head of Policy at the learning disability charity Mencap said the DWP had misled the public.
"DWP's made up case studies present an unrepresentative view of the sanctions regime and its impact on disabled people. Benefits are a lifeline to many people with a learning disability who rely on them to make ends meet.
"We know many people have been sanctioned because Jobcentre staff don't understand their needs and place unrealistic demands on them while not providing support they need. To mislead the public on the effects of benefit sanctions in this way is unacceptable.”
The DWP added in the FOI response to the website: “We want to help people understand when sanctions can be applied and how they can avoid them by taking certain actions. Using practical examples can help us achieve this.
“We have temporarily changed the pictures to silhouettes and added a note to make it more clear that these are illustrative examples only.
“We will test both versions of the factsheet with claimants and external stakeholders to further improve it in the future. This will include working with external organisations.”
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman told the Independent: “The case studies were used for illustrative purposes to help people understand how the benefit system works. They’re based on conversations our staff have had with claimants. They have now been removed to avoid confusion”.