The Government's campaign to encourage poor pensioners to apply for state help was branded 'a waste of taxpayers' money' by the Conservative Party this week.
The Opposition attacked BMP DDB's pounds 3.5 million TV commercials, featuring the actress Thora Hird, after the Government admitted it had attracted only 24,746 successful claimants for the pounds 78-a-week minimum income guarantee, which tops up the pounds 67-a-week basic state pension for old people without other income.
The criticism was embarrassing for the Government, coming as Gordon Brown announced a big increase in the guarantee and the basic pension in his draft Budget on Wednesday.
The Tories said the figures meant that the campaign had cost more than pounds 600 for each application, since its total budget was pounds 15 million, which included the cost of a direct mail blitz and telephone helpline.
'The figures show that the Government's advertising campaign has failed,' David Willetts, the Tory spokesman on social security, said.
But the Government accused the Tories of jumping the gun, saying the ongoing campaign had already attracted 400,000 inquiries and that many claims were still being processed. 'We regard the campaign as a success; people have got the message,' a spokeswoman for the Department of Social Security said. 'These figures are only the beginning and there are thousands of claims in the pipeline.'
Although 1.6 million pensioners claim the guarantee, a further 700,000 are believed to be entitled to it but do not claim. It is the key plank in the Government's strategy of targeting help on the poorest old people.