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The DWP’s Universal Credit ads have been ruled as “misleading”

After forking out £225,000 for six regional press ads published in the Metro, a web page hosted on their website and the Mail Online, the advertising watchdog judged that the DWP broke the rules

EPA/Andy Rain

The DWP’s £225,000 Universal Credit ad campaign in the Metro and the Mail Online has been ruled as “misleading” by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) after they received 44 complaints.

Six regional press ads published in the Metro as well as a web page hosted on their website and the Mail Online during the nine-week campaign were found to have broken the rules by claiming that people were better off on Universal Credit.

The 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” was found to be “misleading” while the ASA ruled that it could be substantiated.

That was also the case for another supposed myth-buster that insisted that “job centres will urgently pay an advance” as well as one that told readers they “can pay rent directly to landlords”. Both claims also “omitted significant restrictions that were likely to affect a person’s decision to apply for Universal Credit”.

The ASA also decided that the ads were “not obviously identifiable as marketing communications” in their judgement.

This was something that the DWP had argued in the hearing, saying that the style was different enough from Metro’s editorial style and that they were clearly marked as advertising features.

Following the ruling released today, a DWP spokesperson expressed disappointment at the ruling.

“We consulted at length with the ASA as we created the adverts, which have explained to hundreds of thousands of people how UC is helping more than 2.5 million people across the country,” he said.

Anti-poverty charity Zacchaeus 2000 Trust (Z2K) were one of the organisations that contacted the ASA to complain about the ads.

They are now calling for all political parties to commit to an independent investigation into how the adverts were greenlit after December’s general election.

“This is a huge win for the tens of thousands of ordinary people who are suffering as a result of a broken benefits system and whose voices have been ignored by policy-makers for far too long,” said Raji Hunjan, chief executive of Z2K. “This damning judgement against the DWP, which finds it guilty of “misleading advertising”, “exaggeration” and its failure to substantiate and qualify its claims, reveals an attitude which is not acceptable in public service, especially in the department charged with protecting people from living in poverty.”

Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Margaret Greenwood also slammed the DWP and reiterated Labour’s vow to scrap Universal Credit.

“It is shameful that this Conservative government chose to waste thousands of pounds on misleading ads about Universal Credit rather than ending the harsh, punitive policies that are causing such severe hardship,” said Greenwood.

“They can’t hide the truth that if people are being forced in ever increasing numbers to turn to food banks to survive, the social security system is not protecting people from poverty as it should.”

Image: EPA/Andy Rain

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