A TV ad for Age Partnership, an equity release company, seen on 21 September 2020 featured a man wearing a suit looking at a residential neighbourhood. He was later shown talking to different people in their homes while the voice-over stated, “This is Alan. He’s an equity release advisor with Age Partnership […] he helps people access the money they’ve built up in their home […] Alan compares the whole market to get his customers the best deal”.
IssueThe complainant, who understood that there were some lenders who did not deal with equity release brokers but only with consumers directly, challenged whether the claim “Alan compares the whole market to get his customers the best deal” was misleading.
ResponseAge Partnership Ltd t/a Age Partnership said they were a whole-of-market equity release broker, that had access to over 500 plans from across the equity release market from all lenders who made their plans available including 45 exclusive plans from lenders that were not available through any other broker. Age Partnership said the term whole-of-market was widely used consumer language adopted by many mortgage and home finance brokers across financial services. They said it was a specific term for brokers that reviewed plans from a range of lenders, rather than one specific lender or a panel of lenders. Age Partnership said whole-of-market brokers must cover a sufficiently large number of options from across the market to be able to representative of the whole market, but it was not a requirement for such brokers to have access to exclusive plans that were only available through one or a limited number of intermediaries. Age Partnership said they were regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and they followed the same regulations as the standard mortgage market. They referred to specific codes from the FCA Handbook which they said were pertinent to the complaint. MCOB 4.4A.5 stated: “A firm may be able to describe its product range as unlimited even if it offers its customers only a selection of the regulated mortgage contracts available from the relevant market, or uses ‘panels’. The firm would need to ensure that any panel, or selection of products, is sufficiently broad in its composition that it is representative of products from across the market, that it is reviewed regularly, and that its use does not materially disadvantage any customer. In such a case, a firm should ensure that its analysis of the market and of the available regulated mortgage contracts is kept adequately up to date. For example, a firm would need to update its selection of regulated mortgage contracts if it became aware that a regulated mortgage contract had become generally available offering an improved product feature, or a better interest rate, when compared with the regulated mortgage contracts currently in the firm's selection”. Age Partnership said they provided access to a broad enough range of products to be representative of the whole market. They said they had been subject to a number of reviews and audits from lenders and compliance consultants and they had not received any objections to their use of the term. They believed that the term was well used and understood throughout the home finance industry and that the key issue for whole-of market brokers was being representative of their chosen market, rather than offering every single product available in that market. They said their product range allowed them to have access to many plans so they could find the most suitable solution for their client’s individual circumstances. Clearcast said they entirely endorsed Age Partnership’s response and at the time of clearing the ad, they had received an assurance that they compared the whole market for customers.
AssessmentNot upheld The ASA noted that the FCA MCOB rules permitted finance companies to describe their product range as unlimited, or whole-of-market, even if they offered only a selection of available mortgages or used lenders on a certain panel, as long as the products available were broad enough to be representative of products from across the market; this was subject to regular review. We therefore understood that the term “whole market” had a technical use and a specific meaning in the finance industry. We also acknowledged some consumers might not be familiar with that technical meaning. We noted that the claim “Alan compares the whole market to get his customers the best deal” appeared after other details about the advice “Alan” was able to give his customers and which promoted the general benefits of using the advertiser’s service. We considered that consumers were likely to interpret the claim to mean that Age Partnership offered equity release products from a very wide range of lenders in that market, which were representative of the whole market and would not disadvantage customers looking for a good and appropriate deal. We noted that Age Partnership had access to over 500 plans from lenders, in addition to those who dealt with them exclusively. We considered that enabled them to offer a diverse selection of products from a range of lenders and so they were well placed to meet the varying needs and circumstances of their clients in the products they were able to provide. We therefore considered that the term whole-of-market reflected the wide range of lenders and products, representative of the market to which Age Partnership had access and understood they were therefore qualified to use that term. Because Age Partnership could offer their customers a wide and representative range of deals, in line with the way the term “whole-of-market” was used by the industry, and because we considered that would also be in line with consumers’ understanding of the claim “Alan compares the whole market to get his customers the best deal” in the context in which it appeared, we concluded that the claim was unlikely to mislead. We investigated the ad under BCAP Code rule 3.1 3.1 The standards objectives, insofar as they relate to advertising, include:
a) that persons under the age of 18 are protected;
b) that material likely to encourage or incite the commission of crime or lead to disorder is not included in television and radio services;
c) that the proper degree of responsibility is exercised with respect to the content of programmes which are religious programmes;
d) that generally accepted standards are applied to the contents of television and radio services so as to provide adequate protection for members of the public from inclusion in such services of offensive and harmful material;
e) that the inclusion of advertising which may be misleading, harmful or offensive in television and radio services is prevented;
f) that the international obligations of the United Kingdom with respect to advertising included in television and radio services are complied with [in particular in respect of television those obligations set out in Articles 3b, 3e,10, 14, 15, 19, 20 and 22 of Directive 89/552/EEC (the Audi Visual Media Services Directive)];
g) that there is no use of techniques which exploit the possibility of conveying a message to viewers or listeners, or of otherwise influencing their minds, without their being aware, or fully aware, of what has occurred"
Section 319(2). (Misleading advertising) and 3.12 3.12 Advertisements must not mislead by exaggerating the capability or performance of a product or service. (Exaggeration), but did not find it in breach.
No further action required.