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Government's universal credit ads banned

A series of Government ads addressing so-called "myths" about universal credit have been banned by the advertising watchdog.

Six ads for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) appeared in the Metro newspaper and on the Mail Online and Metro Online websites from May.

The ads said they would "set the record straight" on the benefit, with one saying: "Myth: Universal Credit makes it harder to pay your rent on time. Fact: Your Jobcentre can give you an advance payment and pay rent directly to landlords."

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled that five of the ads "must not appear again in the form complained of".

Want to know more about universal credit? See our Universal Credit guide.

What did the adverts say?

The adverts listed so-called "myths" about universal credit, such as "universal credit doesn't work" and "you have to wait five weeks to get any money on universal credit".

They then followed these myths up with "facts", such as "people move into work faster on universal credit than they did on the old system," and "if you need money, your Jobcentre will urgently pay you an advance."

Who complained about the adverts?

The charities Zacchaeus 2000 Trust (Z2K), the Motor Neurone Disease Association and the Disability Benefits Consortium were among 44 complainants that objected to "misleading" claims that people could move into work faster under universal credit and payments could be made sooner than five weeks.

They also added that the campaign omitted the fact that advance payments were a loan and came with conditions.

Why were the ads banned?

Defending its claim that people moved into work faster under universal credit, the DWP said claimants were 4% more likely to have been employed at some point in the first six months of making their claim than those on legacy benefits. It said the ads contained additional information which included the terms and conditions for paying back advance payments, although added it was not possible to convey "all qualifying criteria".

The ASA said the September 2017 report, referred to by the DWP in support of the 4% claim, included people who had worked for only a few hours on one occasion during the relevant period.

The advertising regulator said: "We considered that a figure relating to whether people had been in work at some point within six months of making a universal credit or jobseeker's allowance claim was not sufficiently relevant to how readers would understand the reference to 'mov[ing] into work faster' in the advertising claim, as referring to secure, ongoing employment."

It concluded that the claim "as it would be understood by readers did not accurately reflect the evidence" and "was therefore misleading". The ASA also said there was no data relating to the speed with which urgent advance payments were made, and it was therefore not possible to determine the proportion of claimants who received such payments on the same day they were requested.

The regulator said: "We told the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure that they held adequate evidence to substantiate the claims in their advertising, to include significant conditions, and to present significant conditions clearly."

What does the DWP say?

A spokesperson for the DWP said: "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."

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