VETERANS are struggling to navigate the 'bewildering' benefits system, a study by the Universities of York and Salford has revealed.

It is claimed that the complex system is forcing veterans with physical and mental health issues to use food banks or search through bins.

Many of the 120 ex-service personnel taking part were found to have insecure employment, debts and rent arrears.

Others are living with embarrassment, shame and resentment at a system they call unfair and bewildering.

Welfare conditionality links eligibility for benefits and services to responsibilities or particular patterns of behaviour, under threat of sanction for non-compliance.

Universal Credit has added an further layer of complexity and has received damning criticism from those leaving the armed forces and their families.

However, the report, funded by Forces in Mind Trust, suggests that tough sanctions are not the answer and called for greater understanding, with a list of 12 key recommendations.

Professor Peter Dwyer, from UoY, said: "This important study highlights the issues that service leavers making the transition from military to civilian often face in their interactions with the UK's social security benefit system and sets out a number of recommendations for improving provision for veterans in the future."

Ray Lock, from Forces in Mind Trust, added: "The evidence from this study clearly shows the need for identification and understanding of the complex needs of the minority ex-service community who are in need of welfare support.

"The majority of ex-service personnel make a successful transition back to civilian life. For the few who encounter difficulty, we need to ensure that consistent signposting to relevant support services is achieved and the benefits system is easier to navigate."