A radio ad for British Gas, broadcast on 21 November 2017, promoted their LocalHeroes.com website. The voice-over in the ad stated "Ever crossed your fingers and searched online for a local tradesperson? And if they turned up, fixed a problem and didn't let you down, what a hero. Well, now you can uncross your fingers because LocalHeroes.com has taken the luck out of finding a tradesperson. There's no call-out charge and all work comes with a 12 months British Gas guarantee. So whatever the job, there's a Local Hero for that. LocalHeroes.com ...".
The complainant, who booked an engineer's visit on the LocalHeroes.com website and was informed that a charge of £90 per hour would be payable for the engineer to visit and inspect their boiler, challenged whether the claim "no call-out charge" was misleading and could be substantiated.
British Gas Services Ltd stated that all traders using the Local Heroes platform had agreed that they would not charge a call-out fee. However, in some instances, it might be necessary for traders to complete diagnostic work before providing a full detailed quote, which they might charge for. British Gas stated that they, and the traders using the Local Heroes platform, were aware that that should only be charged if the diagnostic work required was particularly extensive or complex. They stated that extensive diagnostic work was common with boiler and central heating issues, where a problem might have been caused by multiple faults in the system.
British Gas said a trader might be able to determine quickly that they might need to remove a boiler cover to inspect the system and identify the issue in order to provide a detailed quote. Where the trader identified that further investigation was required, they should always discuss with the customer and provide a quote for the diagnostic work. They stated that they did not consider that to be a “call out fee”, because the customer was free to decline the quote for the diagnostic work if they did not wish to proceed.
British Gas stated that the trader in question confirmed that they were able to ascertain from a conversation with the complainant that extensive diagnostic work would be required before the issue could be identified. They understood that the trader advised the complainant of that and provided them with a quote, which they stated the complainant did not accept. British Gas also said they reviewed a selection of completed jobs by the trader in question and noted that in other instances where the trader had charged for fault diagnosis, those appeared to be consistent with boiler and central heating repairs where the work was complex.
British Gas stated that this was not the case across all jobs or with other trades. They further stated that in the event that they became aware of a tradesperson using the Local Heroes platform who was charging “call out fees”, they would immediately review any work completed by the tradesperson through the platform and could consider suspending or removing them from the service immediately.
Radiocentre stated that they were satisfied that, prior to accepting the ad for broadcast, the claim “no call-out charge” was unlikely to be misleading.
The ASA considered that consumers were likely to understand the claim “no call-out charge”, within the context of the ad, to mean that they would only incur costs for the repairs or maintenance work that would take place after the tradesperson had carried out diagnosis or assessment of the issue; consumers would not expect from the claim that they would be charged for that diagnostic work. Notwithstanding that the LocalHeroes.com website was operated by British Gas, because the ad did not refer to a specific trade service on offer, we further considered that consumers were likely to expect that the claim “no call-out charge” applied to all trade services available on the LocalHeroes.com website.
We noted British Gas’ comments that in some instances, extensive diagnostic work might be required for boiler and central heating issues and that was common for those products, but that did not apply across other job types or trade services on the website. We also noted their comments that in the complainant’s circumstances, the trader was able to determine from a telephone conversation with the complainant that extensive diagnostic work would be required before the issue could be identified.
We considered that in exceptional circumstances in which the issue was highly unusual and where it would be impossible to identify or locate such an issue without extensive diagnostic work, consumers were unlikely to expect that work to be free of charge. However, because diagnostic work was not uncommon for boilers and central heating, and because such work had been considered chargeable in circumstances that were not exceptional, we concluded that the claim was misleading.
The ad breached BCAP Code rules
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).
The ad must not be broadcast again in its current form. We told British Gas Services Ltd to ensure that future ads did not misleadingly imply that a call-out charge did not apply, unless they could demonstrate that a fee was charged only in exceptional circumstances in which it was impossible to identify or locate the problem without extensive diagnostic work.