Universal credit adverts banned as 'misleading'
A series of government advertisements claiming to debunk myths about universal credit has been banned for misleading the public.
The Advertising Standards Agency received 44 complaints about six newspaper adverts and a web page.
The adverts included claims people moved into work faster on universal credit, which "did not accurately reflect the evidence", the ASA said.
The Department for Work and Pensions said it was disappointed by the ban.
The ASA investigated four issues arising from complaints about the adverts, which took the form of advertising features to "set the record straight" and appeared in May and June in the Metro newspaper and on a web page hosted on the Mail Online and Metro sites.
The claims included in the Universal Credit Uncovered advert series included:
- "Myth: universal credit makes it harder to pay your rent on time. Fact: your job centre can give you an advance payment and pay rent directly to landlords."
The ASA said this was misleading as it omitted significant restrictions placed on the right to alternative payment arrangements, which are in fact available to about one in 10 claimants.
The ASA said: "We considered that readers would understand the claim to mean that under UC the option to have rent paid directly to landlords was generally available without restriction to all claimants who wanted it."
Other adverts claimed:
- "Myth: you have to wait five weeks to get any money on universal credit. Fact: if you need money, your job centre will urgently pay you an advance."
This again, the ASA concluded, was misleading, saying it was not always made clear enough in the adverts the advance was a loan to be repaid within 12 months, or that the advance payments were not necessarily available immediately.
And others 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."
The ASA said it considered that readers would interpret the wording "move into work faster" to refer to secure ongoing employment, but in fact the 2017 study the claim was based on had included "people who had worked for only a few hours on one occasion during the relevant period".
It banned four of the newspaper ads and the web page from appearing again in the form complained about, and said it had told the DWP to ensure it had "adequate evidence to substantiate the claims in its advertising" as well as presenting "significant conditions" to its claims clearly.
The organisations that submitted complaints included the Disability Benefits Consortium, the Motor Neurone Disease Association and the anti-poverty charity Zacchaeus 2000 Trust (Z2K).
Z2K chief executive Raji Hunjan said the ruling showed the DWP's attitude was "not acceptable in public service, especially in the department charged with protecting people from living in poverty".
"The next government must engage with the compelling evidence that points to the harm universal credit is causing, leaving many people reliant on food banks, and others destitute," she said.
Jonathan Blades, of the Disability Benefits Consortium, urged the DWP to apologise for its actions and "concentrate on fixing universal credit".
In a statement, the Department for Work and Pensions 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."