The Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) has banned a broadcast by the Home Office for ‘misleading’ the public on how simple it is for EU citizens to apply to the Settlement Scheme.
The government department’s radio advert, which was broadcast on April 13, told EU citizens that they only needed to have simple ID details to hand in order to apply to stay in the UK after Brexit.
“All you need is your passport or ID card and to complete an online form,” said the advert.
However, many EU citizens have been asked to provide further documentation, prompting the ASA to rule that the advert is “misleading”.
The ruling said: “We understood that in 27% of decided adult cases, applicants had been asked to provide documents as evidence of residence. Furthermore, some applicants had been asked to provide documents as evidence of residence.”
This, said the ASA, breaches two counts of its code because it “did not make sufficiently clear that, in some cases, applicants would need to supply documents beyond their passport or ID card”.
The government responded by saying that “It was not possible to include all aspects of the application process in a short ad”, said the ruling. They believed listeners “would appreciate that it was neither possible nor desirable to cover all eventualities in this format”.
But the ASA rejected this excuse and told the government not to broadcast the advert again, and to be clearer in future communications.
The Liberal Democrats’ shadow home secretary Christine Jardine said the advert only made things worse in the government’s “appalling” treatment of EU citizens.
“It’s appalling the way EU citizens have been treated by the Tories since the referendum,” she said.
“We’ve already heard far too many cases of people not receiving the Settled Status they are entitled to. The Home Office putting out misleading adverts about how to apply only makes it worse.”
But the Home Office has hit back at the ruling and even doubled down on claims made in the advert.
“We completely disagree with ASA’s decision because the campaign was factual and complied with all necessary clearance processes for radio advertising.
“The campaign has had a positive impact and encouraged more than one million successful applications so far.
“The scheme is free, straightforward and EU citizens and their family members have plenty of time to apply. All they need to apply is their passport or ID card and to complete an online form.”
The ASA does not cover political advertising which influence the outcome of an election, but government adverts that are not about influencing voters, such as the Settlement Scheme advert, do come under the ASA’s purview.
A campaign group from within the advertising industry, the Coalition for Reform in Political Advertising, called this a great example of the lack of rules around political advertising.
The coalition has called for a regulator to widen the scope of regulation of political adverts.
Alex Tait, co-founder of the campaign, said: “This example highlights the absurdity of political advertising being the only area of advertising content excluded from the ASA’s scope.
“Misleading claims in political advertising should be within the scope of a content regulator as this ad has been.
“As context, about two thirds of all complaints to the ASA for all non-political advertising are for misleading claims. They also received hundreds of complaints about political advertising in the recent European elections that they couldn’t act on.
“In the era of disinformation and ‘fake news’ we urgently need to close this gap in regulation.”
The coalition has recently called on political parties to sign up to an international campaign pledge in which they commit to a series of measures that introduce greater advertising transparency – particularly in the digital age.
So far, the Green Party and the Independent Group for Change have backed the call.