Summary of Council decision
Two issues were investigated, one of which was Not upheld and one Upheld.
A website home page for Employment Advice Bureau, www.employment-advice-bureau.co.uk, seen on 10 April 2017, was headed, “The UK national free employment law helpline for employers”. Further down the page, text stated “FREE EMPLOYMENT LEGAL ADVICE” followed by a telephone number. The page also featured a logo with an image of justice scales. Text in the logo stated “CERTIFIED QUALITY ADVICE”.
The complainant challenged whether:
1. the claim “free employment law advice” was misleading because they understood that employers must sign a contract to qualify for the free legal advice; and
2. the logo “certified quality advice” was misleading because they believed that the certification did not exist.
1. Avensure Ltd t/a Employment Advice Bureau said that employers did not have to sign a contract in order to receive free advice. They said that free legal advice was available on an unlimited basis to any employer.
Employment Advice Bureau said that a number of contractual services were available to users beyond the free advisory telephone service. They said that if an employer decided to utilise one of those services, a commercial contract would be required, but only upon request.
2. Employment Advice Bureau said that the certification was of an internal nature used to reflect the high standards they set themselves as a business. They provided examples of certifications they had received from independent bodies for different aspects of their business.
Employment Advice Bureau said that they ensured that their advisors were trained and knowledgeable to a high a standard and many of them were solicitors, barristers or Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development qualified. They said that they carried out regular internal training and legislation updates to all advisory staff. They said that they considered the qualifications of their advisory staff supported the claim “certified advice”.
1. Not upheld
The ASA noted that the home page of the website stated, “The UK national free employment law helpline for employers” followed by a telephone number. We considered that consumers were likely to interpret the claim to mean that they could obtain free legal advice, without commitment, by calling the listed telephone number.
We understood that Employment Bureau Advice offered a telephone advisory service to employers which was not restricted by the length or nature of the advice sought. We also understood that the only time a contract was required was if an employer requested to utilise one of Employment Bureau Advice’s additional services. Whilst we understood the complainant had been invited to make an appointment and sign up for additional services at the end of his call, we concluded that because employers were not required to sign a contract to obtain the free legal advice, the claim was therefore not misleading.
On that point we investigated the ad under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising), 3.7 3.7 Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation. (Substantiation) and 3.23 3.23 Marketing communications must make clear the extent of the commitment the consumer must make to take advantage of a "free" offer. (Free), but did not find it in breach.
We noted that the claim “certified quality advice” was presented in a logo format with two icons on either side of the claim. We considered that consumers were likely to interpret the claim to mean that Employment Advice Bureau had been rated by an independent body which recognised that their services met their standard for “quality advice”.
We acknowledged that Employment Advice Bureau had supplied documentation which demonstrated that they had obtained a number of accreditations and had implemented different policies to ensure internal high standards. However, we noted that the logo did not contain any information regarding the basis of the certification. We considered that in the context of a legal service, consumers would expect the basis of the certification to go beyond internal standards and ethics.
Because the claim implied that they had been awarded a certification from an external body relating to their “quality advice”, which we understood was not the case, we concluded that the claim was misleading.
On that point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising), 3.7 3.7 Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation. (Substantiation) and 3.45 3.45 Marketers must hold documentary evidence that a testimonial or endorsement used in a marketing communication is genuine, unless it is obviously fictitious, and hold contact details for the person who, or organisation that, gives it. (Endorsement and testimonials).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Employment Advice Bureau to ensure that future ads did not imply that they had been certified by an external body unless they held documentary evidence.