A website and a paid-for Facebook post for National Debt Help, seen on 25 February 2019:
a. The paid-for Facebook post stated “DID YOU KNOW These three interesting facts could completely change the way we see DEBT. FACT 1: There is a Government Backed Legislation available that can Immediately Stop Harassment from Debt Collectors and unreasonable Creditors. FACT 2: This specific Legislation can (Write-Off) up to 85% of an individual’s Unsecured Debts! FACT 3: The types of Debts that can be included are: Council Tax arrears or unsecured Debts such as Loans, Credit cards, Old Utility Bills and Catalogue Debts over £6,000+. Thousands of individuals within the UK suffer at the hands of Debt and many people feel helpless and stuck in life as if the Debt was a continuous never-ending vicious circle that they have fallen victim to. LUCKILY, there is light at the end of the tunnel, and a specific STEP-BY-STEP solution to eliminate DEBT. We can help reduce and consolidate debts into one affordable, monthly payment, helping fix future credit. No Loans Needed. Free Impartial Advice. Best Advice Given. We’ll help find the best solution for you. Non-judgemental, friendly service. In 2018 an Independent Team of Debt Experts released an easy to use (FREE) Money Planner Download, available for a limited amount of time only.” Beneath the text was a picture of an American policeman.
b. The website, www.national-debt-help.org.uk, included text along the top of the site that stated “National Debt Help Contact for support: National Debt Help”. Text beneath that stated “Receive free debt info. Find a solution online. 1) Use our debt solution finder 2) Complete 4 simple questions 3) Start to become debt free. FIND A DEBT SOLUTION. Free Debt Info. Private & Confidential. FCA Regulated Advisors. Best Advice Policy.”
Further down the page, text stated “At National Debt Help we understand that every situation is different. Here is an example of how your debt is managed. Please note debt write off is dependent on personal circumstances.” Next to that text was an example debt repayment plan.
Further down the page was the logo for “the Money Advice Service” with text that stated “Customers can also get free debt Counselling, debt adjusting and provision of credit information services from the money advice service an organisation set up by the Government to offer practical advice to those in debt.” Beneath that, text stated “Everyone has a unique story. We will listen to you. The help you receive is 100% private and confidential. We are dedicated to helping you. You’ll always get personalised and professional assistance from a kind regulated advisor. We can help you build a brighter future. Our partners have a combined total of over 40+ years experience, we're passionate about getting you Debt Free. Find the right solution for your situation.” Two buttons beneath that stated “GET DEBT HELP” AND “DEBT SOLUTIONS”. The “DEBT SOLUTIONS” button led to a page with entries that included “Debt Management Plan, Trust Deed, Bankruptcy, IVA, and Sequestration”. The “GET DEBT HELP BUTTON” led to another page that presented a series of questions about debt. That led to a contact details page which, once submitted, led to another page that stated “Thank you for contacting us. Taking that first step is always the hardest... However, the great news is you have Qualified for a number of repayment options to help you become Completely Debt Free! A kind and helpful Partner Advisor who is regulated by the FCA or IPA, will contact you to have a private conversation so that they can guide you through the process. What Happens Next? 1. You will receive a confidential call from one of our kind partner advisors to help understand your situation. 2. You will be spoken to with Respect and Kindness, and further provided with the most suitable Debt Options. 3. Rest assured, your conversation will remain 100% Private and Confidential at all times. Our vision and Promise: We speak without jargon. We are open, honest and helpful. We help people from all walks of life who benefit from our balanced and fair approach. We will help you to understand your options and offer you the most suitable solution should we be able to provide it.”
The ASA challenged whether ads (a) and (b) falsely implied that the marketer was acting for purposes outside its profession.
The ASA considered consumers would understand from the name of the Facebook page in ad (a), National Debt Help, alongside claims that included National Debt Help offered “free, impartial advice” with a “non-judgement friendly service” and that they were “open honest and helpful” meant National Debt Help offered free impartial advice about debt with no commercial incentive. Similarly in ad (b) we considered the name of the website and claims such as “We will listen to you. The help you receive is 100% private and confidential”, “GET DEBT HELP” and that they would “offer the most suitable solution” would be understood in the same way.
We understood that while National Debt Help provided consumer contact details free of charge to other businesses they themselves did not offer impartial, not-for-profit advice about debt. We understood, that the company was principally a lead generation company, whose purpose was to gain consumer’s personal information and contact details and disseminate those to other organisations. We noted that in ad (b) the footer of the website stated “We will never charge you any fees for using the services on this site whatsoever. Therefore as an introducer we may receive a commission from our selected partners whom you may be referred to.” However, we did not consider that counteracted the overriding impression that it was a website that principally offered impartial, free-of-charge advice about debt.
Because the ads did not make clear that they were principally for a lead generating company that provided consumers’ contact details to other companies, and instead suggested that they were a debt advice service, we concluded that the marketer misleadingly implied that they were acting for purposes outside their profession and breached the Code.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 2.3 (Recognition of marketing communications), and 3.1 and 3.3 (Misleading advertising).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Money Tree Media Ltd t/a National Debt Help to ensure they did not falsely imply they were acting for purposes outside their trade