Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the Advertising Standards Authority.
Some services involve a “call-out”, which involves a professional travelling to a caller’s home or other premises to assess the work needed. Often, these marketers claim that they do not charge a “call-out” fee, cost, or charge.
Marketers should only claim that they do not charge a call out fee if they do not charge anything for the time spent traveling to the premises and for the initial diagnosis of the problem during that initial visit, regardless of whether the customer proceeds to use their services or not.
Can customers decline work without incurring a cost?
Unless callers can decline work without incurring a cost, advertisers claiming "No call-out charge" or similar should not charge for the time spent traveling to the caller's home and the initial diagnosis of the problem (Academy Maintenance Group, 18 March 2015).
“Assessment” or “diagnostic” fees that are imposed if customers do not have remedial work carried out are likely to be seen as equivalent to a call-out charge. In 2010 the ASA ruled that the use of “no call-out charges” was misleading where an assessment fee, which was deducted from the bill if work was carried out, was incurred even if no work was carried out (Able Group (Services) Ltd, 7 April 2010). Similarly, the ASA considered that the claim "No Call Out Charge" was misleading because the advertiser did charge consumers for any time spent by an engineer diagnosing a problem, and did not show whether consumers would be charged if a problem was diagnosed but no work completed once a quote for fixing the problem had been provided (Rightio Ltd, 25 November 2020). See also Town Force Ltd, 4 November 2020.
When investigating the claim “No Call Out Charge … Diagnostic work charged unless work undertaken”, the ASA concluded that the sub-heading contradicted, not clarified, the headline, and was therefore misleading (Premier Electrics, 4 August 2004).
Is extensive diagnostic work needed?
If the marketer can show that a diagnostic charge is levied only in exceptional circumstances in which it is impossible to identify or locate the problem without considerable work, the ASA is likely to consider the claim “No Call-Out Charge” acceptable. Any charges that are necessary as a result of extensive diagnostic work should be made only with the prior agreement of the caller.
Are there any alternative claims?
Claims such as “Call-out charge off-set against cost of work” are likely to be acceptable if advertisers will discount the price of the call out fee from the bill. Marketers would have to be able to show that they did genuinely redeem the cost of call-out and they had not simply inflated their prices to cover the ‘discount’ offered.