ASA bans BT advert as misleading (not for the first time)

The ASA complaint against BT

Today (27/02/19) the  Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) announced that it has upheld a complaint against BT. The complaint was received from Virgin Media (the irony) regarding a national press advert and claims on the BT website seen 19 May 2018. The ASA listed the below on its website regarding the complaint:

“a. The press ad included the claim “UK’s most powerful Wi-Fi vs. major broadband providers” as a feature of the Infinity broadband package. The claim also appeared as a feature of the Unlimited Infinity package. The ad featured an image of the BT Smarthub.

b. The BT website featured the headline claim “BT Business Smart Hub. The UK’s most powerful business wi-fi signal vs. major broadband providers*”. Further text stated “*Better than all other major UK business broadband providers, giving you the strongest signal furthest from the hub. Tests prove it”.”

BT logo

 

Virgin challenged the claims saying that they were misleading and could not be substantiated.

The ASA response to the BT complaint

The details of the response, assessment and action are detailed  in the ASA Ruling on British Telecommunications plc t/a BT

In short, the ASA found that BT broke rules on  Misleading advertising, Substantiation, Exaggeration and Comparisons with identifiable competitors.

ASA action against BT

The ads must not appear again in their current forms. The ASA has instructed BT “… not to claim that their routers were “the UK’s most powerful” unless they could demonstrate that they could provide a stronger signal than other major providers when subjected to other forms of non-Wi-Fi interference, and unless they could provide recordings of the levels of all types of interference when each router was tested to demonstrate that each router was subjected to consistent levels of interference.”

BT has previous for breaching the ASA code

The ASA has received a number of complaints about BT’s advertising over the years. Most have been upheld resulting in BT not being allowed to show ads in the same format. They referred to a variety of adverts, website, emails, publications and TV. Various issues were raised and investigated, upheld and action was taken against BT 11 times from May 2014.

BT is not alone. Put in any other telecom provider and you will find similar. When I asked the ASA about BT’s track record a spokesperson said that it needed to take a proportional view. “BT produce thousands of ads a year across media in a highly competitive sector. In that context, a handful of upheld rulings points towards an advertiser that, by and large, plays by the rules. It would be different, say, if BT produced 20 ads a year and we found them to have broken the rules on several occasions. As a proportion of the number of ads they produce, which is a prolific amount, the number of issues to crop up is low.”

Does the ASA have any real powers?

The ASA investigates complaints and tells companies that ads cannot appear in the same form again. Is it just a slap on the wrist? The adverts have run so the companies don’t lose anything?

Another issue is the time it takes for the ASA to investigate. So many months have passed by the time the ASA has made its judgement that any consumers who took on a service or bought a product on the claims of an advert have already been stung.

ASA

The ASA says that it bans adverts that break the rules so they can’t appear again. It says that the company receives negative publicity/reputation damage when it  is at the wrong end of an ASA ruling. However, how many people look at ASA rulings on a regular basis? And how many of the investigations reach the media? A spokesperson for the ASA said  “An investigation and having an ad campaign banned costs the company involved time and money in responding to our queries and providing evidence to back up their claims. It can also cost a company money, in some instances a significant amount, if we ban an ad campaign that is planned to have a long run.”

The ASA claims that rulings can affect share prices. They say this on the back of conversations with companies  saying only that the companies would need to provide this evidence.

“The majority of advertisers work with us, are committed to responsible advertising and agree to follow our rulings. There are sanctions in place for those who are unwilling or unable to work with us. These include prohibiting an advertiser media space – we liaise with media space owners who won’t run their ads – removing paid search ads for the company, mandatory pre-vetting of ads and. ultimately referral of non-compliant advertisers to our legal backstop, Trading Standards who can and do have statutory powers. They can issue fines and prosecute offenders. In some instances this can involve advertisers being sentenced to prison.”

So in effect the real financial damage comes when and if Trading Standards gets involved or if the case hits shares which in essence can only happen if the case hits the media. With the cuts to Trading Standards budgets the likelihood of any local branch taking action against a company is remote.

What can consumers do?

Consumers should continue to report any issues they see with advertising to the ASA. Some issues do hit the media. Such as the Virgin Media story in 2018 (and the ASA refused to investigate that one!) and the Amazon story in 2018 where it told Amazon to ditch ‘guaranteed next-day delivery’ claim which did stop an ongoing advert. many of the complaints investigated come from just one complaint received.

If you took out a service on the basis of a claim though you can try and get out of a contract with no penalty. Use the The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (amended 2014).

lap top on woman's knees phone in one hand

 

If you have another complaint about your telecom provider see All you need to know about complaining to telecom providers

Further help in complaining

book Logo cartoon cow at a laptop of book cover. How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!

 

 

For advice, tips, consumer laws, information and template letters GET THE BOOK! How To Complain: The ESSENTIAL Consumer Guide to Getting REFUNDS, Redress and RESULTS!

 

5 myths about Ombudsman providers busted

Ombudsman separating the truth from the misconceptions

Background to ADR and Ombudsmen

Alternative Dispute Resolution providers which include ombudsmen, provide services for business and consumers. When you can’t get your complaint resolved and the trader is a member of a scheme you can take your complaint to an ADR provider. Alternative Dispute Resolution: What it all means

In April 2018 the Government produced some research, Resolving Consumer Disputes. The findings included “…in cases where the ADR provider decided in favour of the consumer 83% of consumers perceived the process to be fair. This dropped to 17% in cases where the decision was in favour of the trader or a compromise. A similar, but less extreme, variation was seen for consumers who had used the courts (90% v. 53%).” Not exactly surprising.

lots of images of people shaking hands

The myths about ADR

Being in the world of consumer rights and stuff I talk about this area a lot. However, so often I hear the same inaccurate assumptions and beliefs from members of the public, including journalists. Sometimes these come from personal experience, sometimes guesses, sometimes from inaccuracies reported in the media and sometimes from I don’t know what! There are a lot of issues with the sector but these are mainly to do with oversight of the approval.

But here I am going to bust a few of those popular myths and hope it helps make things clearer! I’m using the term Ombudsman for ease but ADR provider is still the same in terms of these myths. (However, an Ombudsman has to be member of the Ombudsman Association which has higher standards than for non members as shown by their minutes of a meeting revoking the Retail Ombudsman’s membership. See The Retail Ombudsman is no more and the minutes in appendix  J of More Ombudsman Omnishambles.)

5 Commonly held beliefs about ombudsmen

1) Ombudsman are consumer champions

Nope. A consumer champion will fight for the consumer. An ombudsman is an unbiased service. Each case is looked at individually and decisions are made on the evidence provided.

2) Ombudsmen are paid by the traders so will always see in their favour

Nope. The traders pay yes. The alternative would be for consumers to pay at least a proportion! The traders pay a yearly fee plus a case fee. If the case goes to arbitration then in some cases, such as with the Furniture Ombudsman and an independent inspection is required, the trader pays for this too. Therefore it is actually in the traders’ interest to try and resolve the matter and for it not to go to the Ombudsman. If you look at providers’ annual reviews you will see the breakdown of percentages of cases won by trader etc. If the consumer were made to pay as well you might as well go to court and these schemes are there to provide an ALTERNATIVE! An Ombudsman service gets paid the same win or lose so there is no incentive to find in favour of either party.

As an example:

In the period November 2016 to October 2017, Ombudsman Services closed 49,117 energy complaints. Of those, it helped resolve 8% without investigating because the energy company was willing to provide the consumer with their desired resolution.

Of the complaints that Ombudsman Services investigated, it:

  • upheld 66% (finding that the energy supplier had done something wrong and had not done enough to put it right).
  • maintained 26% (finding that although the energy supplier had done something wrong, it had already offered a fair resolution to the customer).
  • did not uphold 8% of complaints, (concluding that there was no substance to the original complaint and the energy supplier had treated the customer fairly).

Rip Off Britain Independent reports

3) All ombudsmen are funded by Government

Nope. All providers in the non-regulated sector, such as furniture and airlines are funded by the industry. Providers in the regulated sector such as the Financial Ombudsman, energy and telecoms are also funded by the industry so that services are free to consumers. Others, such as  the Local Government Ombudsman are funded with public funds.

4) If the trader doesn’t want to pay up it won’t

In the regulated areas of finance, energy and telecoms if a trader doesn’t abide by an ombudsman’s decision then it will be reported to the regulator. Financial Conduct Authority, Ofgem and Ofcom. They will investigate and if found to be in breach of the rules can be shut down. In the non-regulated areas if the trader doesn’t abide by a decision they will be expelled from the scheme. The rate for non compliance is very low.

ADR schemeYearNo.Reason for expulsion
The Motor Ombudsman201632 Non-cooperation with scheme, 1 with outcome
The Motor Ombudsman20158Non-cooperation with scheme
The Furniture Ombudsman20160N/A
The Furniture Ombudsman20171Non compliance

There are however issues with compliance in the aviation sector, particularly with AviationADR members. See more details in More Ombudsman Omnishambles and Landing in Court with Ryanair.

5) There are lots of people who have gone to court when not happy with Ombudsman decision

If the Ombudsman doesn’t see in your favour it doesn’t necessarily mean it is wrong. It could be that you didn’t provide enough evidence and the same could happen in court. See Energy ombudsman shows how to keep heat on your supplier for an article from the Energy Ombudsman on how best to present your case.

The court option always remains open to you. But actually very few people do this. An ombudsman will usually be open to looking again at any case if you have more evidence. A judge can only look at evidence. There are cases where people go to the Small Claims Court, but often these don’t get reported accurately in the media which is misleading. For example, one recent case was reported in the media as the judge seeing in favour of the consumer where the ombudsman hadn’t. Actually it was because the trader didn’t attend and so a default judgement was made.

There are issues with ADR

Yup. Not a myth!

Westminster Business Forum seminar Next steps for consumer protection in the UK – dispute processes, enforcement and the consumer markets green paper. 15/11/18 Alternative Dispute Resolution – approval and oversight in the loosest possible sense of the words…

 

Alternative Dispute Resolution – approval and oversight in the loosest sense of the words…

 

There are many issues regarding ADR and Ombudsmen providers. These are to do with the oversight by the approval bodies. See Government and regulators continue to fail on resolving consumer disputes and Landing in Court with Ryanair. These articles include links to reports (Ombudsman Omnishambles and More Ombudsman Omnishambles in particular). They also link to articles from Which? and The Independent that describe a number of problems which are not the fault of providers and provide  warnings about one provider, Consumer Dispute Resolution Limited run by Dean Dunham which runs RetailADR, UtitlitiesADR and AviationADR.

 

man talking to couple