Summary of Council decision:
Three issues were investigated, of which two were Upheld and one was Upheld in relation to ad (a) only.
A website and paid for Facebook post for Churchill Retirement Living Ltd seen in March 2023:
a. A page on the Churchill website www.churchillretirement.co.uk/cost-of-living, included text that stated, “Churchill’s Ambassador Dame Esther Rantzen recently took part in a cost of living mini-feature with Churchill, looking at the savings and energy efficiency benefits of downsizing from a typical three bedroom house to a new Churchill apartment.”
The page included a video, which featured Dame Esther Rantzen who said, “At Churchill we did a survey and found one in four retirees are giving up their retirement and going back to work. Some feel pressured to go back to cover their increasing monthly expenses.” A Churchill Owner identified as “Patricia Chiverton” was introduced. They said, “I don’t think I would have been comfortable having the heating on in the old place. I think I would have rationed myself probably to evenings when I sat down and maybe for an hour in the morning when I got up.” Dame Esther Rantzen continued, “But energy bills have for many of us have confronted us with an unexpected new challenge. So what if anything can be done to help maintain your standard of living when you retire without taking such drastic measures as having to return to work?” Comments appeared in several areas of a home. They included “Draughty Doorways”, “Cold Corners” “Power Hungry Appliances” and “Rocketing Bills”.
The video showed two men, identified as independent energy experts comparing a three-bedroom semi-detached house with a Churchill apartment. Dame Esther Rantzen said, “With Dion’s calculations now complete we can now tell you when it comes to saving money between the two properties … the total is a whopping one thousand one hundred and sixty saved per year just on energy bills” and later “… results show us the energy savings someone could expect if they moved from a three bedroom property to the Churchill apartment … they would save over one thousand pounds per year on energy alone. But bear in mind this was calculated using energy prices at the time of filming. Of course prices may rise. Dion is independent. His findings are in line with more holistic studies Churchill themselves conducted, which took all the savings from downsizing into account, not just energy and found downsizing to a Churchill apartment could save someone an average of two thousand three hundred pounds per year … We want to help you make the right decision without the pressure. And ultimately to live without worrying about every penny that you spend … take care and stay warm.”
b. The Facebook post, that linked to ad (a), included text that stated, “At Churchill, we understand the importance of living an affordable lifestyle whilst enjoying your way of life. With our new apartment, you can experience both.” The accompanying video featured Dame Esther Rantzen who said, “Join me for a Churchill Retirement living review. As we uncover some of the unseen energy costs around your property. Our energy experts will examine two properties and using their special equipment will reveal any hidden costs.” Two men, the experts, were shown performing tests at a house. One of them said, “What we can see here in the Churchill lodge is these are really well insulated. In the three-bedroom property, when we looked with a thermal camera, we could see that some of those external walls, the temperature of those was matching the temperature of the outside. When it is zero outside all of that heat is going to be sucked out through the fabric of the building.” Dame Esther Rantzen said, “Tune into their findings and to learn why downsizing could save an average of two thousand three hundred pounds per year. Visit Churchill retirement dot co dot uk forward slash cost of living.”
The ASA challenged whether:
1. the claims of saving over one thousand pounds per year in ad (a), were misleading;
2. the claim of saving two thousand three hundred pounds per year in ads (a) and (b) was misleading; and
3. ads (a) and (b) were irresponsible, because they exploited the current cost of living crisis.
1. Churchill Retirement Living Ltd (Churchill) said the £1,000 annual energy cost savings were calculated by sustainability consultants. Churchill provided a full breakdown of the consultants’ figures which they explained were based on scientific testing and analysis carried out while ad (a) was being filmed. They said the three-bedroom house chosen for filming in the ad was a typical three-bedroom semi-detached house in Berkshire built 50 years ago. They attached comments from the sustainability consultants explaining that the property was an end of terrace house and their research supported the conclusion that this was the most common type of property. In addition, the sustainability consultants’ believed the results from the property were typical for a property of that age and condition, if not slightly better. They acknowledged there was subjectivity around whether the three-bedroom property in the video was an average one. However, they believed they had taken reasonable steps to ensure the property was reasonably typical of the wider UK housing stock in terms of age, condition and history. They provided the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) for the property.
Churchill said their apartment used in the filming was from their Oscar Lodge development in Aylesbury, which was representative of their wider property portfolio. They explained they built very standardised one- and two-bedroom apartments across the country which met almost identical specifications. So, energy efficiency for all their properties was similar. On that basis they believed their property in the ad was a fair representation of an average Churchill property.
Churchill explained that the tests in both properties were conducted on the same date (late November) and in similar locations and so the outdoor temperature and weather conditions were suitably similar to make a fair comparison.
2. Churchill explained that the £2,300 per year overall cost saving figure was based on a wider analysis of government EPC data, their own service charge data and additional costs every household would have incurred. They provided supporting documentation to explain how the £2,300 figure had been generated.
Churchill explained that they had contrasted two typical dwellings (a three-bedroom house and a four-bedroom house) against properties on three of their developments. They had defined a “typical dwelling” as one with a D rated EPC because in England and Wales the average energy rating was D. They explained that other organisations, such as Ofgem, may look at a typical household when it came to energy use. However, those statistics would incorporate new build houses which would perform better than a “typical dwelling”. The comparison in the ad was only against a “typical dwelling”. They said from their experience their “typical customer” would have lived in a three- or four-bedroom property for many years and therefore the average energy use in that property would be significantly higher. They explained regarding their own properties used in the comparison that they had looked at average EPC data for each of three developments and picked properties where that data was as close a match as possible to the average for that development.
3. Churchill said that the cost of living crisis was a topic that had been in the media for many months. While it affected people of all ages, they believed older people, who may have been living in larger properties, no longer suited to their needs, and whose running costs were high due to global and national events, would be particularly concerned about it. They therefore wanted to provide a solution. The ads were intended to educate the audience about how downsizing to a smaller, more energy efficient property could help save money.
Churchill explained phrases such as “rocketing bills” and “power hungry appliances” were common in the media, due to the cost of living crisis. In addition, the ads moved quickly from those references to offering a solution. They said car manufacturers had for a long time promoted the financial benefits of switching to a car that was more efficient and cheaper to run. They believed it was therefore reasonable to do the same for housing when bills were so high that the government had to intervene. On that basis they said that the ads were not irresponsible or likely to cause fear or distress.
Churchill said that the ads were no longer appearing because they had been part of a seasonal campaign for winter 2022 which was no longer running.
From references in ad (a) to saving “one thousand one hundred and sixty per year” and “over one thousand pounds per year” the ASA understood that consumers would interpret the claims to mean that they could expect to save on average over £1,000 on energy costs when moving from a typical UK property to any Churchill apartment.
The energy savings claims had been generated by sustainability consultants who were independent of Churchill. They had compared a three-bedroom semi-detached house, featured in the video, to one of Churchill’s apartments. They had picked the non-Churchill property on the basis that it had been average building stock and reflected typical outcomes for a property of that age and type. We were satisfied, from the EPC certificate, that it was reasonably representative of average UK housing. In addition, the Churchill property picked for the comparison was from their Aylesbury development, where all properties had B rated EPCs, which did reflect the average for Churchill housing nationwide.
However, we understood that while the majority of Churchill apartments had a B rated EPC, not all their apartments were B rated and even particular developments were not B rated overall. In addition, we understood that the Churchill apartment used for the comparison was part of their Aylesbury development that was powered by a ground source heat pump. Energy costs for the ground source heat pump were considerably more efficient than other Churchill developments, such as those that were served by electricity in conjunction with solar energy.
We understood why Churchill had used their B rated property for the comparison in the ad. However, we were concerned that without further explanatory information about the energy source and the energy rating of the Churchill property, consumers would be misled into thinking that a move to a Churchill property or Churchill development could save them over £1,000 in energy costs when downsizing from a non-Churchill property, when a switch to a lower energy rated or different energy sourced Churchill property or development would not save that amount.
Without further explanation to contextualise the comparisons between the Churchill and non-Churchill housing, the ad and specifically the energy saving claim of over £1,000 in the ad, was likely to mislead.
On that point, ad (a) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation) and 3.9 (Qualification).
From references in ad (a) and (b) to saving “two thousand three hundred pounds per year” downsizing overall, we understood that consumers would interpret the claims in the ads to mean that they could expect to save in the region of £2,300 on all costs when moving from a typical UK property to any Churchill apartment.
Churchill had generated the £2,300 savings figure by calculating the average savings from three scenarios. They had contrasted an average one- and two-bedroom Churchill apartment against a non-Churchill three-bedroom property and a four-bedroom property respectively. In a third scenario Churchill had compared a typical two-bedroom Churchill apartment against the three-bedroom property. In all three scenarios results showed a saving from downsizing to a Churchill property.
We considered the calculations provided by Churchill, which took into account potential for savings on home insurance and Council Tax, as well as bills not influenced by property size, such as TV licence and broadband. The calculations also incorporated the service charge and ground rent costs for Churchill properties and the estimated costs for repairs and maintenance in the non-Churchill homes. Finally, there were the gas and electric bills. Churchill had estimated that consumers would save between £2,260 and £2,740 moving from a non-Churchill home to a Churchill apartment. While there were extra costs moving to a Churchill apartment, such as the service charge, and so overall the saving was only £2,300, the biggest individual saving within the calculations moving to a Churchill home was on gas and electricity.
Churchill had calculated the gas and electricity usage for all properties using publicly available EPC data and the current cost of gas and electricity. They compared results from one three-bedroom property and one four-bedroom property, energy rated D, as that was the national average for properties in England and Wales.
Regarding the Churchill apartments used for the savings comparison, Churchill had taken two of their representative apartments from each energy source they used (electricity and solar, ground source heat pump and air source heat pump) from three separate developments. The six properties in total had B rated EPCs because that was the average for Churchill apartments.
Concerning the non-Churchill properties used in the savings comparison we noted that the estimated gas and electric use, based on their calculation from the EPC, for the three-bedroom house was 24,255 kWh and for the four-bedroom house it was 27,560 kWh. We understood that Ofgem on their website stated that a medium energy use house (a two- to three-bedroom property, with two to three people living in it) would generate a typical gas and electricity use of 14,200 kWh. For a high energy household (a four or more bedroom house with four to five people living in it) would generate a typical gas and electricity use of 21,100 kWh. Therefore, the homes picked by Churchill as a comparison did not seem representative of the national average. Churchill had explained that the Ofgem figures were based on “typical households”, which included new build houses that would be significantly more efficient than “typical dwellings”. A typical dwelling, used in Churchill’s comparison, would have a D rated EPC. However, the exact basis of the comparison had not been made clear in the ad and in the absence of further information, consumers would interpret the savings claim to be against an average property, which could have been reflected by the Ofgem figures. Both properties they had picked, by Churchill’s calculations, used significantly more energy than an average high energy household as defined by Ofgem and in the case of the four-bedroom house used almost double the energy of a medium energy house. We therefore considered that the properties used for the calculation, which made up the biggest individual saving moving to a Churchill apartment, were not representative and the ad would require clear qualification to explain the basis of the calculation for consumers to understand it.
We further noted that while the Churchill properties used for the electric and gas calculations seemed fairly representative for the ground source and air source heat pump developments, the average energy use of the two apartments they had chosen for the electricity with solar development were 25% lower than the average property at that development. That was significant because properties using electricity with solar, generated over double the cost than that of those using ground source and air source heat pumps, according to the calculations.
On that basis, the properties used for the comparisons between the Churchill and non-Churchill housing were not representative and the resulting claimed saving of £2,300 featured in ads (a) and (b), was likely to mislead.
On that point, the ads breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation) and 3.9 (Qualification).
3. Upheld in relation to ad (a) only
Marketing communications must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society and must not cause fear or distress without justifiable reason.
Ad (b) referred to the balance between enjoying life, but doing so affordably. The accompanying video made clear that living in older houses could cost consumers money on bills, for reasons they might not immediately be aware of. The ad proposed that by downsizing to a Churchill home could save consumers money on their bills and therefore allow them to enjoy their life affordably.
The example in ad (b), of all the heat being sucked out of a building due to poor insulation, was a bold claim that could cause consternation for some. Further to that, references to “hidden” and “unseen” energy costs in the ad had the potential to cause concern. However, the language used was measured and not excessive. While the ad did make reference to uncovering “ energy costs around your property”, and therefore could have been seen as referring to all houses, it was clear that the property chosen, was only an example and that energy efficiency would vary from house to house. In addition the ad did not imply that all properties had the same problems as the one in the video or at least to the same degree and the fact that some level of energy inefficiency existed in all houses was likely to be widely understood.Ad (a) contained a longer video. The video was entitled, “Churchill Retirement Living – Saving Energy Costs with Esther Rantzen – Cost of Living” and text on the website said it was part of a, “cost of living mini-feature”. Therefore, it would have been interpreted in that context.
The video talked about the current consequences of rising living costs on older people. It explained how bills had confronted people with a new challenge and highlighted the stress a stretched budget could bring. The ad explained that a Churchill survey found one in four retirees had gone back to work due to pressure about their increased monthly expenses. It asked what people could do to live well and protect their retirement pot, without the “drastic” decision to go back to work and giving up the freedom of retirement. A Churchill resident was interviewed and explained that if she still lived in her old house, she would have rationed her heating. The video warned that energy bills could continue to rise and that consumers “should not have to watch every penny”.
The ad promoted downsizing to a Churchill home as a solution to rising bills, by highlighting the energy costs and savings that could be made by doing so. While the video did offer suggestions on how to make homes more energy efficient, they were strongly caveated with advice to seeking professional help. The ad advised homeowners, that doing work themselves was unwise or even dangerous and that work on a home could run into thousands of pounds. References to “draughty doorways”, “cold corners”, “power hungry appliances” and “rocketing bills”, added to the impression that running a home was likely to be costly.
The underlying messages of the ad, energy efficiency and consideration of bills in a time of rising prices, were not in isolation problematic, even when used in the context of the cost of living crisis. However, Churchill’s ad discussed these issues using a narrative that strongly focused on the concerns of older people, such as rationing heating, having to go back to work or relying on savings to pay bills. Further, it warned that the things could get worse through future higher energy bills. That negative message was then compounded by images of houses leaking heat and money, and positioning the primary alternative for moving to a Churchill property, and that making improvements to existing homes, as costly, potentially dangerous and overall, an onerous process. For those reasons ad (a) was likely to cause fear or distress without justifiable reason and therefore was irresponsible.
On that point ad (a) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 1.3 (Compliance) and 4.2 (Harm and offence). We also investigated ad (b) under those rules, but did not find it in breach.
Ads (a) and (b) must not appear again in their current form. Savings claims must be supported by robust evidence and appropriately qualified. In addition, ads must be prepared with a sense of responsibility and should not cause fear or distress without justifiable reason.