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The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and clothing collections

1. The ASA - related pages

2. The ASA generally

How do you contact the ASA?

Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) logo

Website: www.asa.org.uk  

What is the ASA?

xStatistics:The ASA is a 'self-regulating trade body' - a not-for-profit, private sector organisation funded by a  levy (of 0.1%) on advertisers.  It's a limited company.  It's not part of government.  So the end of the ASA's web address isn't '.gov.uk' (it's '.org.uk').

This status makes it unique amongst the regulators we describe who are involved with controlling collections (see the Regulators page).  All the others are part of government.

Although not part of government, the ASA has government approval.

What does the ASA do?

It investigates complaints about advertising in the UK.  It was set up in 1962.

For its first 40 years it only regulated non-broadcast advertising (or 'marketing communications' as they call it) - in other words, advertisements in print - such as newspapers, magazines and leaflets.

However, on 1 November 2004 it took on the regulation of broadcast advertising as well.  Ofcom (the government media regulator) contracted out to it the regulation of broadcast advertising.  So now the ASA is a one-stop shop for all advertising complaints.

Who can complain?

Anyone - individuals or organisations.  Complainants have included companies (unhappy with the ads produced by a competitor), trading standards departments (TSDs) and charities.  When an individual complains, the person's name and address isn't revealed by the ASA.

Often, only one complaint is made about an ad.  But if it's a controversial ad, the ASA may receive dozens of complaints about it.

How do you complain to the ASA?

In writing - by post, fax, email or via the website.  It helps if you enclose a copy of the ad.

How does it do it? - adjudications (=decisions) on complaints

For years, the ASA's slogan has been:  Ads should be 'legal, decent, honest and truthful'.

Regarding non-broadcast advertising, it publishes the CAP Code - the 'British Code of Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing'.  The Code is produced by the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP).  This lays down detailed rules.

Anybody who's unhappy with an ad can write to the ASA complaining :

Distribution - The adjudication is :

Types of adjudication :

  1. If the adjudication says that the complaint was 'upheld', it means the ASA felt the complaint was justified.  Usually, the decision mentions which CAP Code rules were broken (quoting the section numbers).
  2. Sometimes it's only 'upheld in part' - meaning that some parts of the complaint were seen as justified, but others weren't.
  3. 'Not upheld' means that the advertiser was found to be "not guilty".

Example - We picked an upheld adjudication at random.  Here's a summary of it, particularly the headings :

How long does it take the ASA to process a complaint and issue the adjudication?  - We guess it's about three months on average.

What powers has the ASA got?

If any part of a complaint is upheld, the ASA :

The ASA's legal powers are limited.  It can't sue or prosecute.  It can't fine advertisers.  However, over the years it's proved quite effective.

In extreme cases it has the power to refer some advertisements to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) - a central government watchdog.  The OFT does have strong powers.

3. The ASA - clothing collection leaflets and bags

ASA

The leaflets and bags delivered by house-to-house collectors are categorised as 'advertisements'.  So the ASA can investigate misleading aspects of them.  These include any potentially misleading references to charities or companies/businesses - such as bogus registration numbers, names or addresses.

xStatistics:Since 2000, the ASA has dealt with over 30 complaints about clothing collection leaflets.  Complainants felt they were misleading - often because they seemed to imply they were charitable when (in reality) they were commercial.

Who complained? - Some complaints were from the public, but others were from organisations - such as charities and council trading standards departments.  In most cases the ASA upheld the complaint - in other words they agreed it was misleading.

A while ago, the ASA issued a news release on misleading "charity" clothing collection leaflets.

The 'publisher' sanction - With misleading ads in newspapers and magazines, the ASA stops them by reporting the problems to the publisher of the newspaper or magazine (as well as the advertiser).

This two-pronged approach is usually effective.  Unfortunately, this method is no use with ads for house-to-house collections, because the leaflets are normally distributed directly to homes by the collectors - so no newspaper or magazine is involved.

4. How do you find the ASA's adjudications on collection leaflets and bags?

The ASA's adjudications are published on its website:  www.asa.org.uk  

Finding ASA adjudications - (1) made in the last five years

The ASA doesn't publish a list of them as such.  However, it's easy to create a list of most of the collections - by using the search box on its website.  This generates a list of adjudications made in the last five years (typically about 10).  Obviously, use search terms such as 'collection', 'collections', 'charity collection' or 'clothing'.  You may need to do several slightly different searches to get them all.  Each entry has a link to the full adjudication.

Bear in mind they're not always allocated to the same category :

Finding ASA adjudications - (2) more than five years old

Laptop computer [w325]

You can find quite a few, but it takes some effort.  Also, it helps if you know the name of the collector.

Alas (as far as we know) the search facility on the ASA website only retrieves cases less than five years old.  However, we were pleased to find that some cases older than this are still on its website.  To access them, you can find them using Google.  The Google link will take you directly to the adjudication.

Even when this fails, we've found you can view some of them using Google's Cached [=archive] link.

Also, we've found some useful old 'ASA Summary Reports' (Acrobat PDFs), produced quarterly by the ASA - eg : ASA Summary Report Volume 3 Issue 2 (2 April to 25 June 2003)   [29 pages]

The Google links for these reports take you to the ASA website - and the documents are there.  But they don't seem to be listed when you use the search box on the ASA's website.

A plea to the ASA . . . These older cases are still very useful.  You'd be helping everyone (except bogus collectors!) by:  (1) keeping them on the website, and (2) re-instating them in the index so they can be found via the search box.  Remember, with court cases, lawyers use some civil and criminal adjudications which are over 100 years old. `

A-Z

Our list of ASA adjudications

On the page called A-Z list of clothing collectors, we've added details of collectors who were the subject of adjudications by the ASA.  In the A-Z table, column 2 is headed 'ASA', and column 3 has more information on each case.

5. The ASA's adjudications on misleading collections - a valuable resource (but neglected)

Unfortunately, the ASA itself has limited powers :

However, this doesn't diminish the value of the adjudications themselves.

Why councils should be using the adjudications

The adjudications appear to be the only authoritative analysis ever done of the wording of individual misleading collection leaflets and bags.  They're a valuable (but neglected) resource.  They're well-respected.  Generally, they're high-quality and well-argued.

They're especially useful if you're trying to stop a misleading 'hybrid' collection - a collection which is designed to look charitable, but which is really commercial.

- See the page on this:  'Does it need a collection licence?  Is it charitable? . . .'

Local councils dealing with misleading collections should study the adjudications carefully :

  • They can help council licensing departments which are contemplating prosecuting a collection using the 1939 Act.
  • They can be useful for trading standards departments (TSDs).

We understand that relevant ASA adjudications can be quoted in a magistrates court as material evidence in support of a prosecution.  They can be relevant in two ways :

What's the legal status of the ASA's adjudications?

We're not lawyers, but here's our view :

a) Differences between ASA adjudications and court verdicts

We've explained above that the ASA isn't part of government or the courts system - it's an independent regulator (funded by a levy on advertisers).

Also, its adjudication process is slightly different from that followed by a court.  The ASA aims to use a non-legalistic approach, based on the letter and spirit of the 'law' - in this case the CAP Code on Advertising.

Scale of justice

b) Their similarities with court verdicts

The ASA follows the general principles of a court (or inquiry) - systematically gathering objective, hard evidence, scrutinising it carefully and reaching a balanced verdict based on the facts.

Its verdicts are called 'adjudications' - which implies a judicial process.

The ASA is officially recognised by government as the watchdog for advertisements in the UK.