Hundreds of thousands of elderly people could be lifted out of poverty with full uptake of pension credit, according to a charity.
Independent Age has produced a report saying only 61% of those eligible are receiving the benefit.
The charity estimates about 450,000 pensioners could move out of poverty if uptake was increased to 100%, reducing pensioner poverty to its lowest ever level.
The report says the low take-up creates significant knock-on effects for the NHS and social care which cost taxpayers about £4 billion a year, more than the £2.2 billion bill if uptake was at 100%.
Deborah Alsina, chief executive of Independent Age, said urgent action was needed to improve the number of people claiming pension credit.
She said: “What we can see from this report is that ensuring the poorest pensioners have a livable income is not only the right thing to do, it’s the economically responsible thing to do.
“Taxpayers are unnecessarily footing a health and social care bill of an estimated £4 billion, when if the Government ensured older people received the £2.2 billion to which they’re entitled, many of these additional costs to our health and care systems would be alleviated.”
She continued: “A take-up rate of 61% for a benefit designed to keep older people out of poverty is indefensible – and this rate has stayed stagnant for a decade.
“The Government needs to urgently create an action plan that contains high quality, up-to-date research into who is not claiming pension credit and why they are not receiving it.”
SNP MP Neil Gray has urged the UK Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to follow the Scottish Government’s lead by launching a UK-wide benefit take-up campaign.
He said: “Pensioners across Scotland and the UK are facing greater health and economic challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic and it is vital the UK Government does all that it can to protect our pensioners and ensure they are not left behind.”
He added: “The DWP must look to Scotland and follow the Scottish Government’s lead in setting out a strategy intended to raise awareness of Scottish benefits, and to ensure that people are receiving what they’re entitled to.
Independent Age has previously said pensioners in Scotland are missing out on more than £300 million in unclaimed pension credit.
A DWP spokesman said: “We want to make sure that all older people receive the support they are entitled to and earlier this year we ran a nationwide campaign to raise awareness of pension credit, also dispelling some myths people might hold.
“Having savings, a pension or owning a home are not necessarily barriers to receiving pension credit and even a small award of pension credit can provide access to a wide range of other benefits.
“We would encourage anyone who thinks they might be eligible for pension credit to visit gov.uk/pension-credit.
“It only takes a few minutes to get an indication of how much they could get using the online pension credit calculator and a claim can be made online or by calling the free claim line 0800 99 1234.”