Claims on the website www.lochaberhighlandestates.com, seen on 20 August 2015, stated "Buy Scottish Land ... Buy your land ... carries with it the Title, and full rights of ownership ...".
The complainant challenged whether the claims regarding buying and owning a plot of land were misleading, because they understood that the customer would not legally own the land.
Tulloch Farm Enterprises Ltd provided a letter from a firm of solicitors in Scotland who were specialists in property law and an opinion from a barrister QC, based in Scotland. Tulloch Farm said that, in their letter, their solicitors had confirmed that souvenir plots of land could be owned and sold. They said that in his report their barrister had confirmed that the purchase of a souvenir plot created beneficial ownership although not a "real right".
They believed their ad made clear that they offered a personal right to a specific plot of land. They believed they had done everything possible to ensure their customers became owners of the souvenir plots they offered. They explained that currently the law did not permit their customers to become registered owners of the land, but they became 'beneficial' owners and would have the right to register as a 'real' owner if and when the law changed.
They said the claim "carries with it the Title, and full rights of ownership" had been made in error and they had removed it from their website as soon as they became aware of the complaint. They also pointed out that on the home page of the website, text in the body copy stated "For £29.99, you can obtain a personal right to a plot of land" and that in an FAQ on another page of the website, text stated "Do I need to register my land? No. There is no option to register your land, because this is such a small plot; specifically it is defined as a 'souvenir plot'. A souvenir plot is defined in the Land Registration (Scotland) Act 2012 as ‘a piece of land which, being of inconsiderable size and no practical utility, is unlikely to be wanted in isolation, except for the sake of a mere ownership or for sentimental or commemorative purposes’".
The ASA noted that, at the time the ad was seen by the complainant, it stated "Buy Scottish Land", "Buy your land" and "carries with it the Title, and full rights of ownership" and we considered that consumers were likely to interpret that to mean they were acquiring a "real right" of ownership. Whilst we welcomed change to the ad by Tulloch Farm Enterprises, we noted that "Buy Scottish Land" and "Buy your land" continued to appear and were headline claims. We considered that the impression given by those claims was that consumers would be buying land in the usual way, which we considered most consumers would understand to be with full rights of ownership. We noted the explanatory text in the FAQ section and on another page of the website, but considered it was not sufficiently prominent to counter the impression that consumers could purchase land with full rights of ownership from Tulloch Farm Enterprises and therefore contradicted the headline claims.
We noted that the solicitors' letter and barrister's opinion both explained that the purchase of small souvenir plots of land, such as the ones offered by Tulloch Farm Enterprises, created a beneficial ownership, but not a "real right" of ownership. They explained that a "real right" of ownership could only be obtained by registration of the property in the Land Register (which was not permitted for souvenir plots of land) and that only a "real right" was enforceable against third parties. We therefore understood that beneficial ownership did not provide the same rights as full legal ownership.
We considered that because the impression given by the ad was that customers would acquire full legal ownership of the plots of land, when that was not the case, the ad was misleading.
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).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Tulloch Farm Enterprises Ltd to ensure they did not state or imply that consumers were purchasing land with full rights of ownership, if that was not the case.