South Scotland SNP MSP Emma Harper has urged the UK government to set out an action plan in 2021 to encourage pension credit uptake as a first step towards tackling pensioner poverty.

Figures from the UK Government’s Department for Work and Pensions have revealed that up to one million eligible families didn’t claim the benefit in 2018/19, meaning they could have missed out on £1700 a year – amounting to £1.8million of unclaimed pension credit money.

Research by Independent Age reveal that just under half a million pensioners could be lifted out of poverty if the UK government acted to increase an uptake in claims and that pensioners in Scotland were missing out on more than £300 million in additional benefits support that they were entitled to.

The South Scotland MSP has joined SNP calls on the Department for Work and Pensions to follow Scotland’s lead and develop a benefit strategy, and to introduce a campaign as soon as possible in 2021 to raise awareness of all support available and ensure people are receiving what they are entitled to by law.

Claiming Pension Credit can also unlock other entitlements including NHS dental treatments, free sight tests, and other local support such as access to the Scottish Welfare Fund.

Ms Harper, who has previously held surgeries across Dumfries and Galloway and who has championed the WASPI cause across the region, said:

“This unclaimed Pension Credit scandal is just the most recent in a long list of Westminster Conservative Party actions that have left and continue to leave millions of older people worse off and in poverty. It is time the Tories started standing up for our older people, so that they receive the support that they are legally entitled to.

“Pensioners across Scotland and the UK are facing greater health and economic challenges due to the current health pandemic, and it is vital that the UK government does all that it can to protect our pensioners and ensure they are not left behind. A few posters in GP surgeries over lockdown – which not many people would have seen – absolutely does not go far enough. We need accessible and further public advertising from the UK Government.

“Pension Credit, which is specifically designed to lift pensioners out of poverty, is crucial to hundreds of thousands of pensioners and it is unacceptable that the Department for Work and Pensions is allowing billions of pounds to go unclaimed.

“While the Conservatives drag their feet on taking real action, I would urge everyone to check what benefits they are entitled to with the dedicated calculator on the UK government or Scottish Government websites, or through Age UK, Age Scotland and Citizens Advice.”