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Advertising Standards Agency may probe “free advice” advert

The Advertising Standards Authority will decide in the next week whether to investigate the Money Advice Service’s controversial TV ad following a flurry of complaints from advisers.

The ad, which began airing last month, features a voiceover claiming: “Our advice is independent and unbiased. Oh, and it is free. How is that for a breath of fresh air?”

It has prompted 41 complaints to the ASA, most of which have come from IFAs.

Many complaints centre on the name of the service, claiming the use of the word advice is misleading.

Complainants also object to claims that the advice is free and feel the references to “independent and unbiased advice” are misleading.

An ASA spokesman says: “A decision on whether or not to investigate has not been made as we are collating the nature of the complaints we have received.

“We have to assess each complaint on each individual point, which means the process is more protracted than it would normally be. We cannot say whether or not there is going to be an investigation at this stage but we should have a decision on this by the end of this week or the start of next.”

Evolve Financial Planning director Jason Witcombe says: “We need to be very careful with the word advice. Having an impartial place to go for factual information is fine but factual information is not advice. The use of the word unbiased feels a bit deliberate. I do not see why it cannot be called an information service.”

Baronworth Investment Services director Colin Jackson says: “As a principle, the MAS is a good idea but in practice the message is misleading. One wonders whether this would be allowed if an IFA was making similar claims.”

An MAS spokeswoman says: “We have not been contacted by the ASA about this matter, therefore we cannot comment at this stage.”


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There are 24 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Hurrah – but ony 41 complaints?

    Come on industry (IFA, Tied and Multi-tied) – if anyone else had done that advert, the FSA would have come down on us like a ton of bricks.

    If the FSA is allowed to ignore their rules – what hope does the rest of the industry have?

  2. If the MAS are forced to withdraw their advert by the ASA what will happen?

    They will spend further £10m of our client’s money preparing another one. They all get to keep their jobs and we get a little bit poorer.

    That is why I didn’t complain.

    Change what you can and work with what you can’t.

  3. We used to have a high street shop with a sign in the window that said “Free Independent Mortgage Advise” Guess what? We were told by the FSA that we couldn’t say that even though we we whole of market, gave advise, and didn’t charge a fee. So we had to change our window display. Should I send a bill to the FSA for the costs we incurred?

  4. Bearing in mind the amount of general disatisfaction and comments on this and areas where out community feel underminded or put upon etc, but equally less real opportunity to feel a voice is heard, but equally complain against our trade bodies etc, would it not show a structured approach to things and on mass register a complaint on the ASA web-site and use this opportunity to make a difference, instead of expecting it to be done by others?

    saw Ken Davy speak yesterday, his quote from Confucius ” a man who stands on a mountain, with his mouth open, will wait a long time for roast duck to fly into his mouth”- does this apply to any of us?!

  5. There would have been 41,000 complaints were IFAs to believe that they could get a fair adjudication on this matter. One government quango investigating another government quango working at the behest of another government quango – the outcome is a foregone conclusion !

  6. Its not “Free” and it’s not “Advice”. I’d even questions as to whether it’s a “Service” of any sort. If the FSA were following their own Financial Promotions rules they would breach about 10 of their own rules. The whole thing really is a load of old hypocricical rubbish.

  7. What? WHAT? Only 41? Come on girls and boys, there’s a principle here! Remember for evil to prevail the good need do nothing.

  8. @Mike Berry

    I’m glad you took down the sign “free independent mortgage advice”

    Those are exactly the type of signs which brought the majority of the mortgage industry down to their knees – offering valuable knowledge for free. So much so that the consumer now expects knowledge to be given for free.

    I’d complain too – but only on the basis that others are not allowed to say “free advice, independent and unbiased” whilst not being authorised. The rest I don’t have a problem with….

  9. The breath of fresh air statement also sticks in my craw, as it implies that advice that has to be paid for is in some way a rip-off. It’s effectively a sweeping insult to everyone out here trying to make an honest living by providing a professional service and charging for it accordingly. Would free accountancy or legal or any other professional service be a breath of fresh air if somebody other than the consumer was paying for them?

    I shall complain.

  10. “To see what is right, and not to do it, is want of courage or of principle. ” – Confucious

  11. re anon @ 9.43
    You have it in a nutshell
    We are never listened to in any way shape or form.
    Why waste more time & effort fighting a case that will never be won.
    We are of no more consequence to them than an ant beneath their feet.

  12. Complaint submitted, only takes a few minutes.

  13. I’ve used the ASA previously and found them to be very professional and will, I’m certain, investigate all complaints in detail and impartially. Do nothing and you get what you deserve. How many IFA’s vote I wonder?

  14. Just done my complaint, it was easy!

  15. I have just submitted my complaint to.
    Provided the name is changed to the MIS or something similar and the adverts are adjusted to be truthful i.e. like the NHS “Free at the point of delivery” NOT free. Plus change Independant adn Impartial to be truthful, then I am happy to pay my £10 per year for what they do, provided they tell the TRUTH.

  16. Julian Stevens 14th July 2011 at 1:06 pm

    My complaint, as submitted to the SA online, is:-

    The Money Advice service does NOT provide advice. Rather, it’s a rehash of what used to be the FSA’s Moneymadeclear service (which produced a number of booklets that offered facts and options and guidance, but NOT advice).

    The advert claims that the MAS is free and is therefore “a breath of fresh air”. It is NOT free, as in funded by central government. Rather, it is funded by compulsory levies again the IFA community. If we refuse to pay, our permission to trade is cancelled, effectively confiscating our livelihoods.

    By stating that the ‘free’ advice provided by the MAS is “a breath of fresh air” the ad implies that advice for which payment is required is in some way tainted or unsavoury. As an IFA, I find this implication both inaccurate and objectionable.

  17. For what it’s worth, here is the text of my letter to the MAS.

    Money Advice Service

    I wish to complain about the advertisements for the above on the following grounds.

    Advertisement One – Featuring the people with elephant features

    1) The Money Advice Service claims to offer ‘advice’. But as it is not authorised or regulated by the Financial Services Authority it is illegal for it to do so under the FSMA 2000 and, in such a case, wrong to claim to be able to do so.

    2) The Money Advice Service claims that its advice is ‘unbiased’ but as it is not authorised by the FSA it cannot legally provide financial advice in the first place which renders this term misleading.

    3) The Money Advice Service claim that its service is ‘free’ is misleading. In reality, the service is paid for by a levy upon financial advisers’ businesses. By making the claim that the advice is ‘free’ and that it represents a ‘breath of fresh air’ (presumably when compared to financial advisers who work under strict regulation) the MAS is using funds raised (approx. £45million this year alone) from financial advisers to denigrate the services of same and mislead consumers in the process.

    4) The Money Advice Service claims that ‘managing money properly can make us feel good’ with the clear implication that we will be happier and live longer if we all follow their advice. By featuring a diagram of a human heart in red with it (the heart) apparently exclaiming ‘Yes!’ the MAS is claiming therapeutic benefits result from taking their advice. Such claims could only be made after clinical trials.

    Advertisement Two – Featuring a predominantly green background

    1) As above, the advertisement claims that the advice provided is ‘unbiased’ but goes on to add the words ‘on your side’. In the context of financial advice, only an authorised independent financial adviser is able to make such a claim as only they have a legal responsibility to work for clients’ best interests. Thus, in the context of the advertisement, the claim to be ‘on your side’ is very misleading as it is, in effect, a claim of quality, substance and reliability for the advice provided to the consumer. But in the context of the advice provided via its web site, the MAS cannot be on anyone’s side as it is a machine!

    2) The advertisement goes on to say ‘Our health check is straightforward, confidential and gives you a clear picture of your finances… … and it takes no more than 10 minutes.’ In the context of the advertisement, the service is claiming to offer a financial health check. But without FSA authorisation, such activity is illegal. Also, as in (1), immediately above, by pretending to be ‘on your side’ the MAS is making a claim for the quality of the financial advice provided without adequate knowledge of an individual’s circumstances to be able to justify such a claim. By offering to provide a ‘clear’ picture of a person’s financial situation, the MAS is leading consumers to put more confidence in the outcome of the financial advice process provided by them than would be reasonable after a process that takes ‘only ’10 minutes’.

    3) Also, the claim to be able to offer a ‘financial health check’ in ‘only 10 minutes’ denigrates the services of professional financial advisers whilst at the same time flouting the safeguards and attention to detail they are legally obliged to provide.

    4) By offering a ‘personalised action plan’ which ‘prioritises what you need to do next’ the service is clearly offering financial advice illegally and, worse still, is encouraging consumers to get on and implement it without delay! As in (2), above, in the context of the promise that the service would provide a ‘clear’ picture of an individual’s financial situation, there is significant risk of consumer detriment from these advertisements.

    ******In my letter I failed to specify the media and type of advertisement. Remember to do that when you complain otherwise they will throw out the complaint if you do not respond quickly (within five working days) which is a little unfair on the part of the ASA as people do go away on holiday, etc. *****

  18. A lot of people with time on their hands……..

  19. Thank you for the article, and thanks to those who have contributed their comments. It has spurred me on to add my own complaint; I hope that many others will do so.

  20. Independent, unbiased advice – that is a synopsis of what an IFA does.

    How can advice be given without knowing the clients circumstances, and who will stand by that advice i,e if consumers invest in a fund that goes bust will the FSCS Levy kick in and will I be paying for that.

    The clients will have picked a fund from a list and the MAS won’t be held responsible. But the client will assume he is getting advice and therefore will expect the MAS to be accountable for that advice!!!

    The MAS is passing itself of as something it is not and it directly undermining the IFA community who pay its bills.

    A sick joke at best and I cannot believe that the advert was approved by the FSA.

    Complaint being put in place to the ASU.

  21. Have any of you guys been on the website? It’s very good.

    So good to see money well spent, just what the public who wouldn’t touch an IFA with a barge pole need.

    Clear, concise advice without being sold to.

    Why would anyone want to pay a fee to be sold to?

    Complaints about this Ad are totally unfounded!

  22. I’ve put a complaint, we should let them get away with this!

  23. Exasperated me 29th July 2011 at 5:07 pm


    What with? A cotton bud?

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