Z2K’s follow up letter to the Advertising Standards Authority

We write to ASA after they inform us that our complaint is escalated to investigations stage.

Dear Advertising Standards Authority,

Thank you for letting Z2K know that our complaint about the DWP’s “myth busting” ads as appearing in the Metro has been escalated to investigations team.

We have read through your complaints guidance, and we understand this to now be at stage 3, which is investigations.  We understand that at this point, you can ask for the media to limit or stop publishing the ad until the investigation is complete.

Given that this is a nine week ad campaign and the DWP are already 3 weeks into it we are writing to you formally to ask you to consider whether the ads should be stopped until your investigation is complete on the basis that the advertisements are misleading people who are already living on low income into making decisions that could leave them, in some circumstances with less money than they may be getting on legacy benefits such as Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) or Employment Support Allowance (ESA).  We would like to point out that once a claimant moves from legacy benefits to Universal Credit, they cannot go back, which we argue reinforces the need for claimants to seek independent advice before making decisions – in the same way that a person would be encouraged to seek independent advice before entering into any agreement that might impact on their financial circumstances.

Circumstances in which people could be worse off include:

– If claimants do not understand that they have to apply to their job centre work coach to ensure direct payment of rent to their landlord (alternative payment arrangements), leaving them with a responsibility for managing their money that they may not previously have had (eg. if they were previously on housing benefit, when payments were automatically made to the landlord).  Worse still, if they do apply for rent to be paid directly to the landlord, and this request is turned down by their job centre work coach.  The DWP’s official guidance reinforces that not everybody will succeed in their application for alternative payment arrangements.

– If they do not understand that the advance payment has to be paid back, so consequently future payments will be less than they expect: https://www.gov.uk/universal-credit/get-an-advance-first-payment.

Independently of Z2K, we refer you to this guide by the Money Saving Expert which explains circumstances in which people are worse off under Universal Credit.

We also believe that the need to stop these ads as a matter of urgency is essential because there is so much confusion over Universal Credit, that there is now evidence that some claimants are being duped into taking loans from scammers.  In fact it is Citizens Advice Scammers month this June, and Citizens Advice have devised posters warning people about Universal Credit scammers.  All the more reason why it is essential that the DWP should make it much clearer that these ads are official DWP ads.

As part of its investigation, we urge the ASA to explore whether the DWP in relation to Universal Credit, should be subject to the same conditions that a bank or money lender would be with regards to setting out their terms and conditions, and encouraging people to seek independent advice.  Until the ASA has completed its investigations, these ads should be stopped because of the harm they could do to an individual’s financial positions.

Yours sincerely

Ms Raji Hunjan

Chief Executive, Z2K