Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Upheld.
A radio ad for YourDebtExpert.com. The voice-over stated, "David was a prison officer, but when his wife lost her job he got locked in himself to a spiral of unmanageable debt worth more than £34,000. We helped David with what we call a Trust Deed. In the event he paid around £7,000 and the balance of his debts were written off. If you have a similar debt problem call me, Peter Dean, Your Debt Expert [phone number] or go to YourDebtExpert.com. No hard sell, no hassle, just honest advice you can trust YourDebtExpert.com. Subject to acceptance, conditions apply."
The complainant challenged whether:
1. the ad was misleading because it did not refer to the risks associated with a trust deed, including the likely adverse effects on the consumer's credit rating; and
2. the ad exaggerated the efficacy of the product, and falsely implied that consumers were guaranteed to become debt free.
1. & 2. The Carrington Dean Group Ltd trading as YourDebtExpert.com (YourDebtExpert.com) said they did not believe the ad was misleading because it only referred to one possible solution that was available to an individual in debt. The ad did not indicate this was the only possible solution and they pointed out the ad referred to conditions applying. They did not believe the ad exaggerated the efficacy of the product or falsely implied consumers were guaranteed to become debt free because there were a number of conditions which had to be met before someone could enter into a trust deed and each case was different. They said the ad was intended to communicate that an individual in regular employment and a steady income could end up in a debt problem which could be solved. They said the illustration was intended to show that levels of debt were relative. They said there were many solutions to debt problems and that they were obliged to advise their customers of every debt solution available and why certain solutions may not be available in their particular circumstance. They said that every debt solution had consequences, including adverse effects on an individual's credit rating, and that they were obliged to ensure their customers were aware of all the consequences when considering their options.
The RACC said they had established that the advertiser was working within professional guidelines and that they considered the content of the ad was acceptable. They did not consider the ad needed to refer to the risks associated with trust deeds, including credit ratings, or that it exaggerated the efficacy of the product. They said the example was based on a real customer's experience and was couched in terms of "if you have a similar debt problem". They pointed out the ad stated "Subject to acceptance, conditions apply".
The ASA understood that trust deeds were a voluntary agreement with creditors for the debtor to repay part of what they owed them, with a protected trust deed being binding on all creditors. A trust deed would negatively affect a consumer's credit rating and we understood there were also other potential negatives to the product. The BCAP Code stated that ads must not materially mislead by omitting material information, but if the ad was constrained by time or space that depended on the measures the advertiser took to make that information available to consumers by other means. We considered that it was important that ads for debt solution products that had both positives and negatives were presented in a balanced manner to avoid consumers being misled. The ad did not refer to any negatives of the product, either specific or general. Although the ad referred to the advertiser's website address it did not indicate that the website contained information about the disadvantages of the product that consumers should consider. Although we considered consumers would have some awareness that there may be negatives associated with any debt product they were unlikely to be familiar with trust deeds in any detail. We therefore considered the ad should have indicated that there were disadvantages, as well as advantages, associated with the product and where consumers could find out more information about these. We did not consider the reference to "conditions" to be sufficient. We therefore concluded that the ad was misleading.
On this point the ad breached BCAP Code rules
Advertisements must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.
Advertisements must not mislead consumers 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 consumers need in context to make informed decisions about whether or how to buy a product or service. Whether the omission or presentation of material information is likely to mislead consumers depends on the context, the medium and, if the medium of the advertisement is constrained by time or space, the measures that the advertiser takes to make that information available to consumers by other means. (Misleading advertising) and 3.10 3.10 Advertisements must state significant limitations and qualifications. Qualifications may clarify but must not contradict the claims that they qualify. (Qualification).
The ad included one example of the use of a trust deed, in which the customer paid £7,000 of his £34,000 debt and the balance of his debts was then written off. The voice-over then stated, "If you have a similar debt problem call me" which we considered implied that other debtors in the same situation may be able to use a trust deed to do the same. We understood that a trust deed would not be a suitable product for all those with debt problems and that not all of those who used a trust deed would become debt free. Whilst we acknowledged that consumers would understand that their options would depend on their individual situation, we nonetheless considered that the ad should have made this clear and that the focus on a debt-free outcome misleadingly exaggerated the capability of the product. We therefore concluded the ad breached the Code.
On this point the ad breached BCAP Code rules 3.1 3.1 Advertisements must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. and 3.12 3.12 Advertisements must not mislead by exaggerating the capability or performance of a product or service. (Exaggeration).
The ad must not be broadcast again in its current form. We told YourDebtExpert.com to ensure that future ads presented their products in a balanced manner to ensure consumers were not misled and not to exaggerate the capability of their products.