ASA slams DWP for misleading Universal Credit adverts

Complaints against the DWP’s universal credit ‘myth-busting’ campaign have been upheld by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ruled that DWP adverts promoting universal credit (UC) published in the Metro newspaper and on the MailOnline website at a cost to the government of £225,000 breached the watchdog’s rules.

The advertisements which claimed to ‘set the record straight’ about universal credit were banned by the Advertising Standards Agency for being inaccurate and misleading.

The ASA said it received 44 complaints, from the charities including Zacchaeus 2000 Trust (Z2K), the Motor Neurone Disease Association, and the Disability Benefits Consortium, about the adverts which claimed that people  receiving UC moved into employment more quickly – something the ASA said ‘did not accurately reflect the evidence’.

The DWP claimed that UC claimants were 4% more likely to have been in work at some point in the first six months of making their claim than people on legacy benefits. However, it was revealed during the investigation that the figure was from a September 2017 DWP report which analysed 27,000 new UC claims made by single claimants with no children or housing costs who made their claims between July 2014 and April 2015 across 94 Jobcentres.

The UC claimants were compared with a matched sample of people claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA). The DWP acknowledged that the group used in the analysis was not representative of the entire UC population and that they were likely to have lower barriers to work than the expected final UC caseload.

Other adverts claimed that Universal Credit made it easier to pay rent on time as Job Centres could give advance payments and pay rent directly to landlords. However, the ASA ruled that significant restrictions on alternative payment arrangements meant that such payments were only available to a tenth of claimants. The ASA said:

‘We considered that readers would understand the claim to mean that under UC the option to have rent paid directly to landlords was generally available without restriction to all claimants who wanted it.’

Raji Hunjan, Chief Executive of Z2K is calling for an independent investigation into DWP’s working practices.

‘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.

‘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.

‘And that is why we are calling for an independent investigation into DWP’s working practices.  If it has misled the public on Universal Credit – its flagship policy – what else is it misleading us on?

‘The next Government must engage with the compelling evidence that points to the harm Universal Credit is causing, leaving many people reliant on food banks and others destitute.  Enough is enough.’

Photo Credit – Pixabay

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