ASA Adjudication on Beresford Adams Ltd
Beresford Adams Ltd t/a
Beresford Adams Countrywide
95 High Street
2 September 2009
Number of complaints:
A circular, for a property agent, featured an image of several babies looking toward the ceiling. The text stated "Speak to THE lettings specialists. Was your lettings agent born yesterday? Protect yourself with a lettings specialist with over 20 years experience. Inexperienced agents put landlords at risk. Protect yourself from inaccurate sales dribble by appointing an award winning, specialist letting agent for your property."
Costal Homes challenged whether:
1. the claim "Inexperienced agents put landlords at risk" could be substantiated;
2. the ad was denigratory to competitors.
CAP Code (Edition 11)
1. Beresford Adams provided examples of newspaper articles that they believed confirmed inexperienced letting agents put landlords at risk. The articles stated that the economic downturn had initiated a shift in agents from the selling to letting despite them having little or no experience in the letting market. They also referred to figures from the Property Ombudsman which stated that there was a 200% rise in complaints involving letting agents in 2008, many attributable to maladministration on behalf of agents. Beresford Adams also provided copies of the Property Ombudsman quarterly reports that supported these figures alongside examples of disputes caused by the inexperience of letting agents. They argued that the ad reflected the real concern in the industry as expressed by the Ombudsman and the media, that these new, inexperienced, letting agents were putting landlords at risk.
2. Beresford Adams argued that the ad did not compare their service with that of an identified competitor and merely reflected industry opinion which had been in the public domain for seven months preceding the ad's publication. Furthermore, they believed the word "inexperienced" was subjective and unlikely to be seen as a reference to competitors who, they believed, were unlikely to consider themselves to be inexperienced.
1. The ASA noted Beresford Adams' argument that the ad reflected the sentiments expressed in the media that new, inexperienced, agents could put landlords at risk and that complaints had increased in this area. However, we considered that the claim was phrased in absolute terms and implied new agents would be a risk to a landlord. We acknowledged Costal Homes' assertion that, as a new agent that complied with the latest standards and regulations, they were not a risk to potential customers. We considered that, because mistakes such as omissions in contracts cited in the articles supplied by Beresford Adams could be made by both new and experienced agents, experience alone would not be absolute guarantee of competence as implied by the claim. We concluded that Beresford Adams had not justified the claim.
On this point, the ad breached CAP Code clauses 3.1 (Substantiation) and 7.1 (Truthfulness).
2. Not upheld
We acknowledged Costal Homes' argument that the ad implied newer letting agents were incompetent and would put landlords at risk. However, we noted the ad did not identify any particular competitor and considered that readers were likely to infer from the ad merely that Beresford Adams was an experienced lettings specialist. We concluded that the ad was unlikely to be seen to unfairly attack or discredit other businesses.
On this point, the ad was investigated under CAP Code clause 20.1 (Denigration) but we did not find it in breach
We told Beresford Adams not to repeat the claim "Inexperienced agents put landlords at risk.
Adjudication of the ASA Council (Non-broadcast)