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.
Premium-rate Services (PRS) is a term used to describe services that offer some form of content, product or service that is charged via users’ telephone payment arrangements. Typical examples include horoscopes, chatlines, adult material and competition and prize draw lines, as well as customer support lines and sales/booking lines. PRS are usually advertised on 09 dialling codes and SMS Short codes. They also include 0870, 0871, 0872 and 0873 numbers.
As well as the guidance the guidance below, marketers should refer to the Phone-paid Services Authority’s Code of Practice on premium-rate services: (See Premium rate services: remit and the PSA Code of Practice).
Marketers should ensure that their advertising includes the cost and all other material information. For non-geographical numbers, ads must state the service charge for any service numbers and make clear that an access charge applies. We recommend the format “Calls cost xp [or xp per minute] plus your telephone company’s network access charge (see Non-geographic call charges).
Marketers must make clear whether accessing a premium-rate service will result in the consumer being automatically signed up as a subscriber to that service instead of them merely receiving one-off content (see Telecommunications: Mobile phone downloads and subscription services).
Marketers should not use PRS to surreptitiously charge customers for services or promotions advertised as “Free” (AC Entertainment, 14 April 2004 and Associated Newspapers Ltd 11 February 2009). Something should only be described as free if consumers will not have to pay anything other than the unavoidable cost of responding. This can include posting a letter or making a local call, but does not include calls to a PRS. As such asking consumers to call a PRS to obtain a “free” item is a breach of the Code.
Marketing communications for PRS should only be sent directly by SMS to those who have given explicit consent to receive them (Rule 10.13.3). “Explicit consent” is when consumers actively consent by taking positive action to receive the marketing material described. Marketers may also want to seek legal advice or contact the Information Commissioner (www.ico.org.uk).
PRS lines are sometimes used as the sole entry route to prize draws. This type of mechanic could render the draw an illegal lottery and marketers should seek legal advice if they intend to base a draw on a PRS. CAP understands that promoters seek to avoid running illegal lotteries by offering a free route of entry to their draws or promotions, referred to as a ‘no purchase necessary route’. Details about a ‘no purchase necessary’ route should be stated in all promotional marketing material, and should have at least equal prominence to that of the PRS number (Rule 8.17.2; GR8 Games Ltd, 18 January 2006).
The Code prohibits promotions where consumers must incur a cost to claim a prize or equivalent benefit (Rule 8.21.1). A PRS will be considered a cost and as such must not be used as a way for consumers to claim a prize. In 2013, the ASA upheld a complaint about a promotion that required consumers to ring a premium-rate number to register their answers to a word search and claim a broach (Churchcastle Ltd, 20 February 2013).
Marketers should take special care when addressing advertisements for premium-rate services to children, and should ensure that their advertisements “contain nothing that is likely to result in their physical, mental or moral harm” (Rule 5.1).
The Phone-paid Services Authority have specific rules regarding marketing PRS to children, and advise that any marketers wishing to do so should contact them.