The DWP’s adverts promoting Universal Credit are ruled “misleading”

An Advertising Standards Authority investigation shows the government misled the public over a nine-week advertising campaign about its welfare system.

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The Advertising Standard Authority (ASA) has upheld complaints about the government’s Universal Credit advertising campaign.

Six regional press adverts published in the Metro and a series of ads hosted by the MailOnline and Metro websites that linked back to an online page by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) led to 44 complaints to the ASA.

Four issues with the adverts were investigated, three of which were upheld and one of which was partially upheld.

Here’s what the ASA decided:

The web ad wasn’t clearly advertising

“We considered that there was nothing in the general content or presentation of the web page which specifically made clear that the content was advertorial.”

The claim that “People move into work faster on Universal Credit” was misleading

“The advertising claim 'MYTH Universal Credit doesn’t work FACT It does. People move into work faster on Universal Credit than they did on the old system', as it would be understood by readers, did not accurately reflect the evidence, we concluded the claim had not been substantiated and was therefore misleading.”

The supposed mythbuster that Universal Credit claimants can generally get paid “quicker than five weeks” was misleading

“We considered it likely that readers would interpret the myth/fact in its entirety to mean that it was generally possible for UC claimants to be paid all or part of their first payment more quickly than five weeks if they needed it. In the absence of additional clarification, readers would not understand that the 'advance payment' was a loan that must be repaid… We therefore considered the implication in the myth/fact that it was generally possible for a UC claimant’s first payment to be made (in full or in part) quicker than five weeks after they made their claim was misleading.”

The suggestion that your rent can be paid directly to landlords in advance was misleading

“Because the claim 'MYTH UC makes it harder to pay your rent on time FACT Your Jobcentre can give you an advance payment and pay rent directly to landlords' misleadingly implied that under UC the option to have rent paid directly to landlords was generally available, without restriction, to all claimants who wanted it and that it was generally possible for a claimant to arrange for an advance on their first UC payment to be paid directly to their landlord, we concluded ads (a), (b) and (g) breached the Code.”

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The ASA ruled that most of the ads shouldn’t appear again in that form, and told the DWP to make sure they “held adequate evidence to substantiate the claims in their advertising, to include significant conditions, and to present significant conditions clearly”.

Raji Hunjan, the chief executive of a charity that complained about the adverts, the Zacchaeus 2000 Trust, called the judgement “damning” and said it “reveals an attitude which is not acceptable in public service, especially in the Department charged with protecting people from living in poverty.”

The charity is now calling for an independent investigation into the DWP’s working practices. “If it has misled the public on Universal Credit – its flagship policy – what else is it misleading us on?”

Emma Revie, chief executive at the Trussell Trust – a member of the Disability Benefits Consortium, which also made an official complaint – said:

“The DWP’s adverts were misleading, and distracted from the urgent change we need to prevent more people being plunged into poverty. It’s disappointing that the UK’s regulator of advertising had to get involved in the first place… This ruling is confirmation that the DWP cannot easily gloss over the realities of Universal Credit, particularly the five week wait for a first payment.”

You can read the DWP’s responses to each complaint about the adverts here.

Anoosh Chakelian is the New Statesman’s Britain editor.