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ASA Adjudication on Ross Coates Solicitors

Ross Coates Solicitors

Unit 5-6, Alpha Business Park
Whitehouse Road
Ipswich
Suffolk
IP1 5LT

Date:

20 February 2013

Media:

Internet (sales promotion)

Sector:

Business

Number of complaints:

1

Complaint Ref:

A12-210506

Background

Summary of Council decision:

Three issues were investigated, two of which were Not upheld and one was Upheld.

Ad

Claims on www.rosscoates.co.uk, appearing in July 2012, promoting a solicitors practice, stated, on the "Conveyancing solicitors" page, "Conveyances services include: We use the latest technology for a speedy and efficient service ... Evening and weekend service". A text box on the right stated "Do you want your mortgage paid for a year? Enter our Mortgage FREE Prize Draw!".

Issue

The complainant challenged whether the following claims were misleading and could be substantiated:

1. "Evening and weekend service"; and

2. "We use the latest technology for a speedy and efficient service"; and

3. whether the mortgage prize draw was genuine, because she maintained that she had not been entered into it and was not provided with details of the competition on request, such as the names of the winners and the closing date.

CAP Code (Edition 12)

Response

1. Ross Coates Solicitors said they had provided an evening and weekend service to their clients for over ten years, provided by the managing partner and an assistant. They said the office was generally staffed between the hours of 8am and 8pm. They acknowledged they could not always be relied on to answer telephone calls outside of office hours and therefore would amend their website on that point, but maintained that the general claim that they provided an out of hours service was correct. They added that they could not guarantee that they could answer calls at any time of day or evening, due to the volume of calls at certain times. They provided statutory declarations from four members of staff, setting out that they worked evenings and at the weekends. They also provided a contract showing the working hours for one member of staff, who was specifically employed to work four hours per evening on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

2. They stated that they used the Pro-claim software designed and developed by eclipse, who specialised in software for the legal profession. They said the software allowed solicitors to use the programme's features at each stage of a particular transaction to reduce time delays and possibilities of errors occurring. They said the software was recommended by the Law Society and had won a number of awards.

3. They stated that they launched the prize draw on 1 October 2011 and closed it on 1 May 2012 and the draw was made on 1 June in accordance with the terms and conditions. They provided a copy of the terms and conditions, which included those dates. They provided a copy of the letter to the winner and said the full details of the draw were published on their website. They added that further information could have been obtained, along with the full terms and conditions, by contacting their quotes department by phone and said the number was included on the website. They said all entrants who qualified for the draw were also sent the full terms and conditions. They said they were not required to make public the winner of the competition.

They said that they were trying to obtain a screenshot of the website, which would show, for example, the terms and conditions or the details of the draw, but had ended their contract with their IT company in April 2012 and it was proving difficult.

Assessment

1. Not upheld

We considered that consumers would understand the claim "Evening and weekend service" to mean that the advertisers offered an extension of their usual working activities in the evenings and at the weekends, albeit with a reduced number of staff. Although we acknowledged that the advertisers could not ensure that they could answer all phone calls from clients outside core hours, and welcomed their willingness to clarify the claim on that point, we noted that the documentation provided by the advertisers showed that one member of staff was specifically employed to work on a number of evenings during the week, and that other members of staff also worked outside of usual office hours. Although we acknowledged that the complainant maintained that, in her experience, the advertisers had not contacted her during evenings or weekends and she had been unable to contact members of staff during the evenings or weekends, because we had seen documentation in support of the claim "Evening and weekend service", we concluded that the claim was unlikely to mislead.

On that point, we investigated the ad under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising) and 3.7 (Substantiation), but did not find it in breach.

2. Not upheld

We considered that consumers would infer from the claim "we use the latest technology for a speedy and efficient service" that the advertisers relied on specialist software in order to aid their service and that, in light of that tool, they considered they were able to offer "a speedy and efficient service". Because we understood that they used recognised, specialist software, we concluded that the claim was not misleading.

On that point, we investigated the ad under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising) and 3.7 (Substantiation), but did not find it in breach.

3. Upheld

We understood that the complainant had first seen the ad in July 2012 and had subsequently engaged the company to provide her with services in relation to three conveyances, which she considered should have entitled her to three opportunities to be entered into the draw. We acknowledged that the terms and conditions provided in response to the investigation stated that the prize draw had closed on 1 May 2012. We understood, however, that the complainant maintained the claim "Enter our Mortgage FREE Prize Draw!" was still appearing on the home page in July 2012 and did not state the closing date. We also understood that the complainant maintained that she had not seen the terms and conditions and believed they had not been available on the website.

We noted that the advertisers had provided a letter dated 6 June to a client, in which the client was asked to contact the advertisers to claim his prize. We noted, however, that we had not seen any additional supporting documentation or details about the prize draw, such as paperwork documenting the acceptance of the prize by the client or any other paperwork documenting the administration of the prize promotion draw and giving the prize. We therefore considered that we had not seen sufficient evidence of the administration and results of the prize draw to show that the prize promotion was genuine.

We understood that the complainant maintained she had not been provided with details of the competition on request, including who had won the prize, and noted that the advertisers considered they were not required to make public the winner of the competition. However, we also noted that the Code required that prize promotions must specify how and when information about winners and results would be made available and that advertisers should make available on request the name and county of major prize winners.

We therefore considered the promotion was in breach of the Code.

On that point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation), 8.1, 8.2 (Sales promotions) and 8.28.5 (Prize promotions).

Action

The claims must not appear again in their current form. We told the advertisers to ensure they held evidence to support their claims.

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