Government's Universal Credit adverts banned for 'misleading' public

Adverts which aimed to dispel "myths" about Universal Credit have been outlawed by the industry regulator for misleading the public.

A series of six adverts, which were promoted by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), appeared in the Metro print and online versions, as well as the Mail Online.

One ad read: "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."

They also listed "myths" such as "Universal Credit doesn’t work" and "You have to wait five weeks to get any money on Universal Credit".

This was followed by "facts" reading: "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."

Among those who complained about the adverts were the Motor Neurone Disease Association and the Disability Benefits Consortium, alongside a total of 42 other complainants.

A DWP Universal Credit ad which has been banned by ASA. Credit: ASA/PA

Why were there complaints about the adverts?

A total of 44 complaints were lodged objecting to the "misleading" claims Universal Credit helps people move to work sooner.

There were also objections to claims credit and payments could be made sooner than five weeks, due to the fact the campaign omitted to reveal such payments came were with conditions and were in the form of a loan.

The DWP defended its campaign, stating the adverts were intended to raise awareness of the benefits claimants may be entitled to and to direct them to further relevant information.

It said claimants of Universal Credit were 4% more successful in finding work within the first six months of being on the system than under previous benefit regimes.

What did the Advertising Standards Agency say?

The DWP has been criticised for its adverts distributed in national publications. Credit: PA

The Advertising Standards Authority (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 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.

A DWP spokesperson said it was "disappointed" with the decision.

"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."

Those behind the complaints have now called for the Government department to apologise for its error.