Summary of Council decision:
Five issues were investigated, of which two were Upheld and three Not upheld.
A poster for the Home Office, which was displayed on the side of vans driven through six London boroughs, featured a close-up image of someone holding a pair of handcuffs and wearing a uniform with a badge which stated "Home Office". A yellow box in the top left-hand corner featured black text which stated "In the UK illegally?". Green text to the right, in the style of an official stamp, stated "106 ARRESTS LAST WEEK IN YOUR AREA*". Underneath, text stated "GO HOME OR FACE ARREST Text HOME to XXXXX for free advice, and help with travel documents". A white box along the bottom of the poster included small print at the left-hand side which stated "*30 June - 6 July 2013 covering Barking and Dagenham, Redbridge, Barnet, Brent, Ealing and Hounslow". Next to that, larger text stated "We can help you to return home voluntarily without fear of arrest or detention".
The ASA received 224 complaints, including from groups which represented migrants in the UK, legal academics and the Labour peer Lord Lipsey.
Most of the complainants challenged whether:
1. the poster, and in particular the phrase "GO HOME", was offensive and distressing, because it was reminiscent of slogans used by racist groups to attack immigrants in the past; and
2. the poster was irresponsible and harmful, because it could incite or exacerbate racial hatred and tensions in multicultural communities.
3. Several complainants challenged whether the claim "106 ARRESTS LAST WEEK IN YOUR AREA" was misleading and could be substantiated.
4. A few complainants challenged whether the qualification in the small print was presented clearly, because it was not legible on a moving vehicle.
5. A few complainants challenged whether the poster was misleading, because it implied that arrest was the automatic consequence of remaining in the UK without permission.
The Home Office said the posters were part of a pilot scheme between 22 and 28 July 2013 which, using various media, principally sought to encourage those with no legal right to be in the UK to depart voluntarily, and to increase awareness of the voluntary departure route. They said the material was similar in tone and content to previous material they had produced on voluntary departures. The mobile billboards in question were part of the pilot and covered specific, targeted areas and were designed to improve awareness of local immigration enforcement activity so that those with no legal right to be in UK were made aware that there was a real and present risk of being arrested. The vans had been targeted to six London boroughs which had either significantly above average, or very low, uptake of the voluntary departure route for illegal immigrants. The pilot was designed to test the media used and to identify which areas produced the highest response rate. Operational intelligence was used to target specific areas within those boroughs, such as locations where illegal immigrants or people seeking work illegally were known to congregate, and high streets.
1. & 2. The Home Office said the main focus of the poster was the text "In the UK illegally?" which was deliberately the most bold statement in the poster, in order to identify and segment the target audience immediately upon view. They considered that statement established that the audience to whom it was addressed were those with no right to remain in the UK. It did not address those who had submitted applications for asylum, those with leave to remain in the UK or naturalised British citizens.
They said that because the posters were displayed on moving vehicles, the message needed to be short and easily understood. The text "GO HOME OR FACE ARREST" was accordingly used to encourage compliance. They said the campaign's message to those with no leave to remain in the UK was that the Home Office could help them go to their home country. This was a simple message which immigration enforcement officers were confident would have resonance with those unlawfully in the UK who wanted to return home to their families. They referred to statements from two former immigration offenders, quoted on a charity website, one of whom said "It was a good decision to go home", and the other said he told his friends to "Come home". The Home Office said the phrase was recognised by those unlawfully in the UK as referring to returning to their country of origin. They said the message was in no way racist and any suggestion that the posters could incite racial hatred had not been borne out by events. They said the Metropolitan Police had confirmed that there were no increases in community tension indicators in the pilot boroughs or elsewhere in London during the period the posters were displayed, and a poll conducted by YouGov on 13 August found that 66% of those polled did not consider the posters racist. Local people had proactively approached Immigration Officers in Southall Broadway on 1 August to make clear that they were not offended and supported the approach taken.
The Home Office said the posters referred to the number of arrests in order to draw attention to the risk of arrest, which in turn was intended to encourage those without the right to be in the UK to return voluntarily. They considered that was no different to any other form of crime prevention communication activity and referenced ad campaigns by Greater Manchester police in which they used mobile ads to target wanted criminals. The Home Office said they had received a great deal of interest from those with no legal right to be in the UK wanting to return to their home country; they considered that indicated the campaign had worked in the way they had planned.
Promogroup, which owned the vans on which the posters were displayed, said the pilot campaign involved two vans running for eight hours a day across the boroughs of Barking and Dagenham, Redbridge, Barnet, Brent, Ealing and Hounslow. Each day, one van would rotate between two and three boroughs. Promogroup said that during the printing and installation stages they saw no immediate issues with the content of the posters. The wording was direct in tone, but they believed that was the intention. They said the main claim "In the UK illegally?" questioned legality rather than race, and the claim "GO HOME OR FACE ARREST" was above text which stated "We can help you to return home voluntarily without fear of arrest or detention". They considered that, along with the text "for free advice, and help with travel documents", displayed the clear message that people in the UK illegally could be helped to return home voluntarily. They said those lines could be easily viewed at a distance of 50 metres as the vehicles slowly drove by. They said the message was clearly visible, clearly about being in the UK illegally, and not confusing to anyone reading it. They said that despite the strong approach they felt the poster offered a genuine service and opportunity for those who wished to take up the chance to be repatriated voluntarily.
Promogroup said that a couple of days into the campaign they had received some e-mails and calls from people complaining about the poster, some of which they understood might have been the result of an organised campaign, but their drivers had not experienced any protest or disapproval. They added that they had received a number of telephone calls from people who had mistakenly called their phone number (which was displayed on their vehicles underneath the posters) who requested information about returning home voluntarily. They passed those people's details to the Home Office. They said those calls had outweighed the number of calls from people objecting to the poster.
3. The Home Office said the data used in support of the claim was the most reliable and recent information. There were 106 arrests made by the West, North and East London Immigration Compliance and Enforcement (ICE) teams and from seven police custody suites in the six pilot boroughs, during the week 30 June to 6 July 2013. They clarified that the number did not include those who had been refused entry or arrested at Heathrow airport. They provided a breakdown of how many arrests were made by each ICE team and from each police custody suite. They said the total number of arrests reflected a typical week and was not significantly higher than usual.
4. The Home Office said the qualification was placed prominently in the expected location (at the bottom of the poster) in 56 point font, which was around 40% of the size of the smallest text used in the claim "106 ARRESTS LAST WEEK IN YOUR AREA", which it qualified. They said that claim was a sub-heading or body text rather than a headline claim and was therefore incidental to the main purpose of the poster; the qualification therefore provided additional information about the 'area' referred to rather than essential information as part of the poster's call to action.
5. The Home Office said the poster did not suggest that arrest was the automatic consequence of remaining in the UK without permission, rather it suggested an alternative, in the form of a voluntary departure. They said that police officers and immigration officers did, however, have the power of arrest without warrant in respect of offences such as illegal entry, overstaying and obtaining leave by deception.
1. Not upheld
The ASA considered the headline statement "In the UK illegally?" made it clear that the content of the poster, which gave brief introductory information about the Home Office's scheme for helping illegal immigrants return to their country of origin, was directed to illegal immigrants rather than to non-naturalised immigrants who were in the UK legally, or to UK citizens. We acknowledged that the phrase "GO HOME" was reminiscent of slogans used in the past to attack immigrants to the UK, but that in that context it was generally used as a standalone phrase or accompanied by racially derogatory language, whereas it appeared in the poster as part of the claim "GO HOME OR FACE ARREST" in which the words "GO HOME" were not emphasised in any way. We considered that, in context, the claim would be interpreted as a message regarding the immigration status of those in the country illegally, which was not related to their race or ethnicity. We recognised that the poster, and the phrase "GO HOME" in particular, were likely to be distasteful to some in the context of an ad addressed to illegal immigrants, irrespective of the overall message conveyed, and we recognised that wording less likely to produce that response, such as "RETURN HOME ..." could have been used. However, we concluded that the poster was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence or distress.
On this point, we investigated the ad under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
Marketing communications must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society.
Marketing communications must not contain anything that is likely to cause serious or widespread offence. Particular care must be taken to avoid causing offence on the grounds of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability or age. Compliance will be judged on the context, medium, audience, product and prevailing standards.
Marketing communications may be distasteful without necessarily breaching this rule. Marketers are urged to consider public sensitivities before using potentially offensive material.
The fact that a product is offensive to some people is not grounds for finding a marketing communication in breach of the Code. and 4.2 4.2 Marketing communications must not cause fear or distress without justifiable reason; if it can be justified, the fear or distress should not be excessive. Marketers must not use a shocking claim or image merely to attract attention. (Harm and Offence), but did not find it in breach.
2. Not upheld
We understood the vans had been targeted to London boroughs which had either a very low, or above average, uptake for voluntary departures, and that within those boroughs the vans were primarily driven through areas in which illegal immigrants, or those seeking work illegally, were known to congregate, as well as other busy areas. We acknowledged that many of those areas had multicultural, ethnically diverse populations. However, as referenced above, we considered that the poster was clearly addressed to illegal immigrants rather than to non-naturalised immigrants who were in the UK legally or to UK citizens, and it would be understood by those who saw it as communicating a message in relation to their immigration status, not their race or ethnicity. We concluded that the poster was unlikely to incite or exacerbate racial hatred and tensions in multicultural communities, and that it was not irresponsible and did not contain anything which was likely to condone or encourage violence or anti-social behaviour.
On this point, we investigated the ad under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 1.3 1.3 Marketing communications must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society. (Social responsibility) and 4.4 4.4 Marketing communications must contain nothing that is likely to condone or encourage violence or anti-social behaviour. (Harm and Offence), but did not find it in breach.
We considered those who saw the poster would understand the claim "106 ARRESTS LAST WEEK IN YOUR AREA" to mean that during the previous week 106 people in the area in which they saw the poster had been arrested under suspicion of being in the UK illegally.
We considered the claim "in your area" would be understood by those who saw the poster to relate, at the minimum, to the locality in which they saw the poster and, at the maximum, to the London borough in which they saw the poster. We understood, however, that the figure of 106 arrests related to arrests made throughout a significant part of London north of the Thames. We also noted the posters were displayed during the week of 22 to 28 July, but the data provided in support of the claim related to the week 30 June to 6 July, the last day of which was just over two weeks prior to the first day of the campaign. We acknowledged the qualification to the claim stated the dates to which the claim referred, but as referenced below, we were concerned that the qualification was not presented sufficiently clearly.
Because the data on which the claim was based related to a significant part of London north of the Thames rather than to the specific areas in which the poster was displayed, and because the data did not relate to the week prior to the campaign, we concluded the claim was misleading and had not been substantiated.
On this 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) 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).
The CAP Code required that marketing communications must state significant limitations and qualifications, and that those qualifications must be presented clearly. We considered information relating to the dates and areas to which the claim "106 ARRESTS LAST WEEK IN YOUR AREA" referred to, constituted significant qualifications to the claim and should therefore be included, and presented clearly, to ensure the claim did not mislead.
The Code did not specify a minimum point size for small print, or other text, in posters. We considered, however, that small print should be clearly visible to a normally sighted person reading the marketing communication once from a reasonable distance and at a reasonable speed. We noted the poster was displayed on a moving vehicle, and therefore many who saw it would have only a limited time in which to read all the information, including the qualification. We also noted the size of that font was significantly smaller than any other text in the poster, and that it appeared to be around half the size of the font used for the text it was placed next to. We considered the size of the font used for the qualification, its prominence relative to other information in the poster and the limited time in which those who saw the poster would have to read the qualification meant it had not been presented sufficiently clearly. We therefore concluded the poster was misleading.
On this point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.
(Misleading advertising) and
Qualifications must be presented clearly.
CAP has published a Help Note on Claims that Require Qualification. (Qualification).
5. Not Upheld
We considered the poster implied that those who were in the UK illegally were at risk of arrest under suspicion of committing an immigration offence, and that it communicated that there was an alternative option for those who wished to return home voluntarily. We understood that some people who were in the UK without permission might have a legitimate right to remain in the UK, for example, those who would have a legitimate claim for asylum, but who had not made themselves known to the authorities. However, we also understood that those who were in the UK without permission were at risk of arrest under suspicion of committing an immigration offence, pending investigation into their particular circumstances. We therefore concluded the poster was not misleading in that regard.
On this point, we investigated the ad under CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising), but did not find it in breach.
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told the Home Office to ensure that in future they held adequate substantiation for their advertising claims and that qualifications were presented clearly.