Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Not upheld.
A website and google sponsored search result seen on 2 January 2017 promoting a service offering employment legal advice:
a. The website www.employeradvice.org featured text that stated “employeradvice.org The Free Advice Service for Employers call our FREE helpline now on …”. Below this was the text “Free Acas Employment Law Advice For Business Owners and Employers …” and adjacent to this was a form that consumers needed to complete and submit with text at the top that stated “Contact Us For Free Expert Advice”. Further down the page was text that stated “Employer Advice is a 24/7, UK-based employment law helpline for employers … 24/7 employment law advice based on the Acas Code of Practice Call Employer Advice’s qualified experts at any time, any day and as often as you like to solve your employment law, HR or staff management problems fast. If you face a grievance meeting, disciplinary or any other issue, we’ll give you instant, actionable advice to free you from stress and save you time and money … It’s why we’re here 24/7, ready to offer you free advice based on the Acas Code of Practice …”.
b. The google sponsored search result featured text that stated “Get ACAS Standard Advice - Free Employer Helpline Ad www.employeradvice.org/Helpline/ACAS 0808 … Free Yourself From Your Biggest Employment Law and HR Problems. Call Now 24/7 Helpline - Employment Law Specialist - Helpline For Employers …”.
1. Celame (UK) Ltd t/a Legal Beagles understood that much of the advertised advice was not “free” because consumers were required to enrol in a paid-for subscription contract before they could obtain certain advice, thus challenged whether the claims “The Free Advice Service for Employers”, “call our FREE helpline now on”, “Free Acas Employment Law Advice For Business Owners and Employers” and “Contact Us For Free Expert Advice” in ad (a) were misleading.
2. Legal Beagles also challenged whether the text “Get ACAS Standard Advice - Free Employer Helpline Ad www.employeradvice.org/Helpline/ACAS” in ad (b) misleadingly suggested that the advertised website was affiliated with The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service.
1. Croner Group Ltd t/a www.employeradvice.org stated that they provided business support services in relation to four specific areas: Human Resources, Health and Safety and Tax and Reward.
Croner Group stated that the claims in ad (a) offered business owners the opportunity to take advantage of their free employment legal advice service over the telephone. They explained that a business owner new to the website would either complete and submit the online form or call the number that was shown. The forms would be submitted to regional advisors who would call the business owner free of charge and incoming calls were connected to an advisor. The advisor would then obtain more information from the business owner and provide unlimited free legal advice as and when needed. Furthermore, no filter or barrier applied to the depth of free advice given to business owners.
If the nature of the business owner’s enquiry was complex and/or serious, then after the free advice on the matter was given, the advisor would offer them a meeting with a regional consultant. The consultant would provide the business owner with the opportunity to sign-up to a premium service, which provided additional services such as optional indemnity insurance and web-based facilities, at a monthly fee. However, business owners could continue to access unlimited free employment legal advice over the telephone if they decided not to become a paying member.
Croner Group provided telephone call records showing the number of inbound calls made by non-paying members to their individual advisors between January 2017 and April 2017, and had highlighted repeated calls. They explained that the records showed inbound calls received by four different receptionists. The caller would dial the number that appeared on the website and be routed to the number that appeared on the records. Once connected to that number, the receptionist then forwarded the call onto a regional adviser. Croner Group believed this showed that they provided unlimited free employment legal advice to non-paying members.
Croner Group stated that some repeat callers may have spoken to a different receptionist on each occasion and in that eventuality, the repeat nature of those calls would not have been captured. Furthermore, the records only captured calls during normal office hours as they did not have the facility for capturing such data outside of those hours.
Croner Group also provided a chain of emails regarding free advice that was given to a business owner who had made their initial query via the website on 9 March and was subsequently advised on 10 March and then again on 14 March on the same matter. Furthermore, the same business owner contacted an advisor again on 12 April regarding a different employment legal matter.
Croner Group provided a spread sheet from January 2017, which they stated identified all the callers, along with their company names, who had received free advice along with a brief note on what was advised and the date of when the inbound calls were made. They provided us with contact details for three of the companies that appeared on the spread sheet, so that we could contact them and ask them to verify that they had received free legal advice. Croner Group believed that this further supported the claim that they offered free employment legal advice.
2. Croner Group believed that the claim “Get ACAS Standard Advice - Free Employer Helpline Ad www.employeradvice.org/Helpline/ACAS” in ad (b) did not suggest that they were affiliated with The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS). They stated that business owners would understand from the text “Get ACAS Standard Advice” that the advice they would receive from Croner Group was of a comparable standard to that offered by ACAS.
1. Not upheld
The ASA noted that ad (a) featured the claims “The Free Advice Service for Employers”, “call our FREE helpline now on …”, “Free Acas Employment Law Advice For Business Owners and Employers …”. Furthermore, there was a form business owners could complete with text at the top stating “Contact Us For Free Expert Advice”, which we understood once submitted Croner Group would contact them and advise them accordingly. Text further down ad (a) stated how the service was available “24/7” “at any time, any day” and that the service could be used “as often as [business owners] like[d] to solve” their employment legal issues. Furthermore, we noted that ad (a) featured the claim “If you face a grievance meeting, disciplinary or any other issue, we’ll give you instant, actionable advice to … save you time and money".
We considered businesses would interpret those claims to mean that they could obtain sufficient employment legal advice over the telephone from Croner Group whenever they needed it at no cost whatsoever.
Croner Group had stated that whilst business owners could subscribe to their premium service at a monthly fee, it was not however mandatory in order to receive free legal advice. Furthermore, they stated that they offered unlimited free employment legal advice for businesses and that there was no restriction as to the detail of advice that would be given.
We looked at the data Croner Group provided, which we understood showed a substantial number of inbound calls that were made by non-paying members between January 2017 and April 2017. We understood that when a caller dialled the number shown on the website, they would be routed to the switchboard number shown on the telephone records, when one of four receptionists would pick-up the phone and then connect the caller to an advisor. However, the records showed that the callers had only connected to reception and no further data was provided showing whether they had actually connected with an advisor and how long those calls lasted. Consequentially, we considered that the repeat calls did not demonstrate that those callers had actually received free legal advice on more than one occasion. Furthermore, we noted that a large number of repeat calls were made seconds or few minutes apart on the same day, which we considered indicated may have been because callers were held in a queue and decided to disconnect and then redialled.
We referred to the chain of emails Croner Group provided, which they stated referred to how they had given free legal advice to a business owner. We noted that an advisor had provided them with detailed advice on how they could carry out a “formal capability procedure” to assess employee performance, as well as giving examples of redundancy calculations. Furthermore, the following month the same business owner approached an advisor and was given legal advice regarding statutory sick pay and given recommendations as to what arrangements they should make with the employee. However, this was just one example Croner Group had provided showing that they had provided free legal advice to a business owner. Furthermore, details of the business had been redacted and we had not seen a full trail of the emails, specifically showing that the business owner had been given free legal advice following their initial contact with Croner Group.
We referred to the spread sheet that Croner Group had provided that named a total of 275 people as well as the companies they were calling from. We understood that they had all received free employment legal advice, a brief summary of which was provided for each call. We contacted three companies that appeared on the spread sheet and specifically spoke with the named individuals who had been identified in the spread sheet, all of whom confirmed that they had received free employment legal advice over the telephone in January. Furthermore, they provided brief information regarding the type of advice they had received which was consistent with what was noted in the spread sheet.
We considered this demonstrated that Croner Group provided free employment legal advice to businesses, and that we had not seen any evidence which suggested that the free advice was restricted to one call and that a filter applied to the depth of advice given.
Because of that, we considered that Croner Group had provided adequate evidence showing that they provided free employment legal advice to business owners and we therefore concluded that the claims “The Free Advice Service for Employers”, “call our FREE helpline now on”, “Free Acas Employment Law Advice For Business Owners and Employers” and “Contact Us For Free Expert Advice” in ad (a) had been substantiated and were not misleading.
On that point we investigated ad (a) under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising) and 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, but did not find it in breach.
2. Not upheld
We considered that businesses would understand from the text, “Get ACAS Standard Advice”, the URL www.employeradvice.org/Helpline/ACAS along with the rest of the content in ad (b), that a company offering employment legal advice via their website and phone line was being promoted and were comparing themselves with ACAS by claiming that they offered the same calibre of advice, rather than suggesting that the advertised website was associated with the public body.
Therefore, because we considered that ad (b) had clearly drawn a comparison between two different organisations that provided a similar service, we concluded that it did not suggest that the advertised website was affiliated with ACAS.
On this point we investigated ad (b) under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.
Marketing communications must not mislead the consumer by omitting material information. They must not mislead by hiding material information or presenting it in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner.
Material information is information that the consumer needs to make informed decisions in relation to a product. Whether the omission or presentation of material information is likely to mislead the consumer depends on the context, the medium and, if the medium of the marketing communication is constrained by time or space, the measures that the marketer takes to make that information available to the consumer by other means. (Misleading advertising), but did not find it in breach.
No further action necessary.