DWP rapped by watchdog over 'misleading' Universal Credit adverts

Posted On: 
6th November 2019

The Department for Work and Pensions has been rapped over “misleading” adverts about Universal Credit.

ASA received 44 complaints including from charities
Credit: 
PA

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) launched a probe after receiving 44 complaints, including from the Motor Neurone Disease Association and the Disability Benefits Consortium, about the campaigns.

They claimed the ads, which ran in the Metro, Mail and Mail Online, overstated the effectiveness of the benefit and glossed over its flaws.

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One of the ads said: "MYTH: Universal Credit doesn't work. FACT: It does. People move into work faster on Universal Credit than they did on the old system."

But the ASA said: "Because the advertising claim ... as it would be understood by readers did not accurately reflect the evidence, we concluded the claim had bot been substantiated and was therefore misleading."

In response to the complaints, the DWP said 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 those on the benefits it replaced.

However, the ASA concluded: "Four issues were investigated, three of which were upheld and one of which was upheld in part."

Five of the six ads in question were banned from being published in their current form.

Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Margaret Greenwood said: “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.

"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.

"The reality is that advances are loans that need to be paid back, often on top of other debts and rent arrears built up during the five week wait, leaving many people at risk of destitution."

Responding to the ASA’s ruling, the DWP said the ads aimed to raise awareness of the benefits that claimants could be entitled to, and help signpost to further information.

It also defended claims it conveyed misleading statements on aspects of UC, saying the ads also contained more detailed terms and conditions, "although it was not possible to convey all qualifying criteria in the ads."

 A DWP spokesperson added: "We are disappointed with this decision and have responded to the Advertising Standards Authority. 

"We consulted at length with the ASA as we created the adverts, which have explained to hundreds of thousands of people how Universal Credit is helping more than 2.5 million people across the country."