The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has upheld complaints that the DWP misled readers about universal credit (UC) in a national advertising campaign costing over £250,000 earlier this year.
In May a leaked memo from UC Director General Neil Couling revealed that the DWP was funding an advertising blitz disguised as news to promote UC.
There was to be a regular feature in the free Metro newspaper, published by the Daily Mail group of newspapers, as well as an advert disguised as news wrapped around the cover of the paper.
Couling boasted that:
“The feature won’t look or feel like DWP or UC – you won’t see our branding, and this is deliberate. We want to grab the readers’ attention and make them wonder who has done this ‘UC Uncovered’ investigation. The stories in the feature over the subsequent nine weeks, will highlight the flexible nature of UC, demonstrate the personal service available for all customers, and promote recent improvements such as the increase in work allowances.”
More than 40 organisations complained to the DWP once the ads started to appear and activists began a campaign of removing copies of the Metro from tube and train stations and destroying them.
The ASA fully upheld three of the complaints and partially upheld the fourth.
They found that claims that people moved into work more quickly on UC could not be substantiated as the figures only related to a smaller subset of claimants who would generally find it easier to move into work in any case.
The ASA also found that the claim that an urgent advance can be paid to people who claim UC did not make it clear that this was a loan that would have to be repaid.
In addition the ASA found that the suggestion that claimants could arrange to have their rent paid direct to their landlord was not true.
The ASA partially upheld the complaint that the adverts could not easily be identified as adverts rather than news. In relation to print news the complaint was not substantiated, but in relation to adverts that appeared online it held that it was not clear that they were adverts rather than news.
The DWP has been banned from publishing the adverts in the future.
The DWP, however, have chosen not to apologise for misleading people and potentially encouraging them to claim a benefit on which they might be worse off than their current benefits.
Instead the DWP issued a statement saying simply that it was disappointed by the ruling and that:
“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,”
You can read the ASA’s full ruling here.