The ASA claims our broadband write-up’s ‘misleading’ – we disagree

The ball has hit our arm, we've not committed a bad foul

The ball has hit our arm, we've not committed a bad foul

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has today ruled that a TalkTalk broadband and line rental deal we wrote about earlier this year was not clear enough – something we disagree with.

Naturally, we are deeply frustrated by the ruling, particularly as it claimed – wrongly in our opinion – our write-up was "misleading".

The ASA upheld two complaints about us, but also rejected two.

See the full ASA ruling and immediately below is our write-up of the deal (minus links to other pages as the deal has now expired), followed by my summary of the ASA’s ruling.


B’band & phone equiv £15.25/mth + £75 Love2Shop (if line rent paid upfront)
New hot deal that can save some £100s a year. Check what you pay now – many on c.£16/mth for line rent ONLY

Add up what you pay for phone & broadband now. Many people typically pay £300+ a year before calls. Yet if you pounce on short-lived hot promo deals you can nearly halve that. Full info in Cheap Broadband, here are the headlines:

  • cheap broadbandEnds Thurs. £75 high street shops voucher on hot deal. MSE Blagged. Until Thurs, TalkTalk newbies (ie, not had it for 12+ mths) can get this Simply Broadband deal on a 1yr contract:

    – Compulsory line rent: You pay £15.95/mth. But we suggest, if you can afford it, you opt to pay £141 upfront for the year (equiv to £11.75/mth), during the online sign-up.
    Unlimited broadband: Currently £3.50/mth, so £42 for the year (avail to 85% of UK).
    – Included calls: None, but you can add ‘boosts’ for anytime to landlines.
    – £75 Love2Shop voucher, spendable at Boots, Argos & over 80 other stores.
    Once your broadband connection is live, log into TalkTalk My Account, and the voucher will be posted within 28 days.

    Analysis: Excluding calls, if you pay line rent upfront + broadband, the year’s cost’s £183, equiv to £15.25/mth (pay line rent monthly, it’s £233 – £19.42/mth), plus you get the £75 Love2Shop voucher. If you’d spend that at, say, Boots anyway, factor it in too & it’s effectively £108 over the year, equiv just £9/mth (£158 a year or equiv £13/mth).

    Need a new line? If you don’t have a line (or only have a cable one or, in a few circumstances, Sky customers) installation’s £50. You’ll get that back on your first bill but WON’T get the voucher.

Issue 1: The ASA claims our write-up implied calls were included when they weren’t

You’ll see our headline states the deal is for "broadband and phone". The phone element came with just line rental and no inclusive calls.

The ASA thinks we "misled" because it interpreted such a headline would have people think calls were included.

If you look at our full write-up, we did mention calls are NOT included, so we DID include the key info.

Headlines often can’t tell you the whole story, they give an overview. In this case, if you read the full piece you will see we included the relevant info.

Yes, we could have written ‘line rental’ instead of ‘phone’ in the headline to make it even clearer (something we do now) but we don’t agree that many people will read our write-up thinking calls are included. And don’t just take our word for it…

Martin Lewis asked people on Facebook the following question when we became aware the ASA was investigating.

If I headlined "phone & broadband deal £12/mth" would you think:

  • A. You got line rental, broadband and all calls for £12.
  • B. You got line rental broadband and no calls for £12.
  • C. You got line rental, broadband for £12 and not sure about calls so you’d look more to find what calls you got.
  • D. Something else.

Out of 1,567 people who answered the question, here is how they responded.

  • A: 9%
  • B: 21%
  • C: 53%
  • D: 17%

So only 9% of people thought you definitely got calls.

Therefore, 21% don’t think calls are included, and more than half would have looked for more information, which the rest of the write-up provided.

Issue 2: The ASA thinks we omitted a key piece of info

The ASA also thinks we failed to disclose that anyone who took the deal who racked up £20 worth of calls could be barred from making a chargeable call until they made a payment to bring it below £20.

We saw this as very much minor detail, and we linked to TalkTalk’s terms and conditions which stated this. This is because calls were not even included in the deal, plus the term did not cost anyone any cash. In fact, it can be viewed as a positive term and therefore not something to warn about given it stops people building up a big debt.

We also reviewed how similar deals are written up by other websites and we did not find any that mentioned an unbilled call limit, leading us to assume it is industry practice not to do so.

No complaints from users

What’s more, we have not seen any complaints to us that relate to the points raised – the one person who complained to the ASA about this write-up is a journalist, though we don’t know who he or she is.

Our suspicion is that person went fishing for something to try to catch us out with on a technicality as the complaints are so specific.

In case you’re wondering, the ASA is allowed to investigate based on just one complaint.

So that means we have not seen anyone who thought they were getting inclusive calls included but was upset when they realised they wouldn’t. And we have not seen anyone who feels let down by us not disclosing upfront that they would not be allowed to make a chargeable call when their bill reached £20.

Other issues rejected by the ASA

The person who made the complaint about this write-up didn’t just complain about the points above.

He or she also challenged the accuracy of our write-up where we stated calls weren’t included, but that you could pay extra to get an inclusive allowance bundle. This was accurate so the ASA threw the complaint out.

The person who complained also thought we had misled people as we subtracted the value of a voucher that came with the deal to give users an equivalent monthly price.

The deal was advertised by TalkTalk as £15.25/month but it also came with a £75 Love2Shop voucher. We stated that if you would have spent that voucher anyway, it is the equivalent of £9/month. The ASA had no problem with that analysis so threw that complaint out.

We are journalists, not advertisers

I must admit to much frustration at this saga, as unlike newspapers, our journalistic writing is caught by the ASA’s rules.

The key word in that is “journalists”. We are not advertisers.

Newspaper journalists are not caught in the same way, as they have a different model as they take paid advertising. We are caught because you can click a link from our content and go direct to the product provider to get the deal. We do not have any advertising banners.

I used to work in national newspapers and we worked in exactly the same way as we do here, only that at MSE we explain products in even more detail to help users make as informed a decision as possible.

With our model, we write about the best deals, and we may or may not get paid if people click through to a product from our site. But when we write, we write as independent journalists, regardless of whether we are paid or not.

We’ve a good relationship with the ASA

MSE has a good working relationship with the ASA, which has been very helpful in trying to make us understand its viewpoint and how it works.

But we believe the ASA is too blunt an instrument. Even if we had done wrong, it has grouped us in with companies that genuinely mislead.

An analogy we’ve talked about internally is in football where a referee can award a penalty for a nasty two-footed tackle, but also for handball where the player unintentionally uses his or her arm.

In this case – even if you think we’ve done wrong – the ball has hit our arm, we’ve not committed a bad foul.