A Liverpool personal injury firm has been ordered by the Advertising Standards Authority to amend a ‘misleading’ television and radio advertisement offering £2,000 in ‘upfront’ payments to clients.
The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers complained about the advertisement for Hampson Hughes, whose partners are members of the body.
The advertisement featured a male character singing about an accident he had. During a break in the song, the character holds a cheque for £2,000 and says ‘£2,000 upfront? Cool!’. Text at the bottom right of the screen stated: ‘On eligible cases, T&Cs apply’.
APIL suggested the ‘upfront’ claim gave a misleading impression that the payment would be made upon the client instructing the firm, when in fact it would not be made until later in the process.
Hampson Hughes argued that the ad clearly stated that terms and conditions applied to the cash advance, so the inducement was within the rules.
The firm said all new clients affected by non-fault accidents received medical assessment within two weeks of initial instructions and following instructions from insurers, the majority of the full advance payments would be released within four weeks of initial instructions. It said the process normally takes between six and 18 months to conclude fully. But of the 605 advance payments made between 1 June 2013 and 31 May 2014, 24% were made within 30 days of initial instructions, 27% between days 31 and 60, and 26% between days 61 to 90.
The firm had sought the assistance of Clearcast – a body that helps ensure adverts are compliant with the relevant broadcast codes – which said the advert did not ‘materially mislead consumers’. It considered the most important factor was that the payment was provided to the client before the conclusion of the case.
The ASA upheld APIL’s complaint. It accepted that consumers were unlikely to interpret ‘upfront’ to mean they would receive the payment on giving initial instructions, but said they would expect it to mean ‘soon after’ the commencement of the process. The ASA acknowledged that each case is different and would have varying timeframes, but noted that 76% of clients received the interim payments more than four weeks after giving initial instructions to the firm.
While the payments were in advance, the ASA said the stage at which the payment was given would not correspond with consumers’ reasonable expectation’ of upfront.
It said the advert was ‘likely to create an impression’ that consumers would receive the payment sooner than would be the case for most clients.
It concluded that the advert was misleading and in breach of the UK Code for Broadcast Advertising and instructed Hampson Hughes not to use the claim ‘upfront’ in future adverts.
The firm has replaced the term ‘upfront’ with ‘advance’ in reference to interim payments in its ads.
Joint managing partner Paul Hampson said: ‘We respect the ASA’s decision but are disappointed with the findings as the advert was approved for broadcast by Clearcast, whose view was that it complied with the UK Code of Broadcast Advertising.’ Hampson said he hoped the altered wording would ‘offer greater clarity’ to customers who ‘remain our number one priority’.
APIL president John Spencer said: ‘APIL has a code of conduct for its members to adhere to, which exists to protect injured people as consumers of its members’ services.
‘In this case, the association found Hampson Hughes’s advertisement to be misleading and therefore in breach of the code.’
He added: ‘Advertising plays a role in helping injured people to find the help they need, but also in nurturing the wider public’s understanding of personal injury.
‘APIL has said for many years that there is a very real need for tighter regulation of advertising in the personal injury field, as well as clearer guidance from the Advertising Standards Authority.’