We’ve been looking at the way we work, and a big part of that, of course, is how we respond to and handle complaints. The result is we’re announcing today that we are placing greater focus on those issues that have the biggest impact – specifically where there is the greatest potential for detriment or harm - so that consumers, society and responsible advertisers benefit. It also means that we won’t be spending as much time on cases where it’s less likely that an ad has had a significant impact on consumers.

In February we announced the introduction of new Prioritisation Principles to guide our work. The principles were developed to help us decide what we should do in response to issues identified through complaints (and other channels). From Monday, 23 November, we will be using those principles to help us decide when we will use our current procedures to investigate issues that potentially break the rules and when we can deal with the issues by other means.

It’s important to stress that, whenever a complaint indicates the rules have been broken, we will act. We’ve always varied our approach depending on the nature of the issues raised, resolving cases informally where possible and in so doing avoiding the lengthier process of formal investigation. We’ll now be making greater use of advice and guidance as an alternative to our existing investigation processes to help advertisers stick to the rules.

Most complainants and advertisers won’t be affected by this policy because the best course of action in many cases will still be to deal with complaints as before, either by informal resolution with an advertiser or by a formal ASA ruling. Where this new policy does apply to a complaint, we’ll write to the advertiser and complainant explaining our decision and the action we have taken.

By introducing the option of writing to advertisers who have potentially broken the rules instead of initiating an investigation, we’ve developed an approach that allows us to act proportionately in response to complaints received whilst freeing up the time we need to focus on the issues that matter most. Those issues might be dealt with through a formal investigation or by other means, such as sector wide work, as we continue to develop the processes we need to become a more proactive regulator.

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