Criminals sentenced to unpaid community service failed to turn up to almost a third of sessions, new figures revealed.

The news led to calls for the orders, which can be used to deal with assault, benefit fraud and property damage, to be strengthened to act as a greater deterrent.

Data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act showed a total of 567 people were made to do unpaid work in Kingston between 2009 and 2011, with 114 failing to complete their orders.

Of the 11,878 sessions offered, offenders did not turn up to 3,415, although the percentage attended increased from 66 per cent in 2009 to 76 per cent last year.

Councillor Andrea Craig said the statistics were “depressing”.

She said: “There are a lot of people who see people [on community service] smoking joints.

“It’s like being at school and seeing what you can get away with, and obviously they have done something seriously wrong to merit it.

“I think people in England have got fed up with people breaking the law and getting away with it.

“Community service needs to be tough, harder and feared so people don’t want to do it.”

Nineteen of the 114 people who failed to complete their order had committed a further offence.

A serving Kingston magistrate, who did not want to be named, said the 29 per cent non-attendance rate was “surprising”.

The London Probation Trust said Kingston was above a different national standard for 73 per cent of hours to be completed, achieving 78 per cent.

A spokesman said: “Statistics show offenders on community payback are less likely to re-offend than those on short-term custodial sentences. 61 per cent of people on short-term sentences re-offend, compared to 37 per cent of those on community payback. Compared to prison it is greater value for money. It also allows offenders to pay back to the community.”

He said the trust had not received any allegations of illegal behaviour by its offenders in Kingston.

The figures came a week after the Times reported the Government was planning tougher community punishments, because “community sentences have not gained public confidence”.