Nearly every business advertises at some point - whether in newspapers or magazines, in brochures, leaflets and mailings, on the internet or even through face to face oral representations. However you advertise, the claims you make must comply with certain regulations.
Two codes of practice, drawn up by the committees of advertising practice, cover broadcast and non-broadcast advertising. The codes of practice are enforced mainly by the Advertising Standards Authority, and the laws on advertising co-enforced by Local Authority Trading Standards Services (and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment in Northern Ireland) and OFT. Adverts on TV and radio are regulated by the Office of Communications (Ofcom).
OFT's role in relation to advertising is to support and reinforce what the above organisations do. Where the ASA cannot resolve a problem, they can refer the matter to Trading Standards, who can enforce where necessary to ensure compliance. We intervene when we are best placed to act, or when an effective resolution, against advertising that harms consumers or other businesses by being misleading or making unfair comparisons, can not be achieved elsewhere.
If your business advertises goods or services to other businesses, or if in your advertisements to businesses or consumers you make comparisons that identify a competitor, or products offered by a competitor, you must also comply with the Business Protection from Misleading Marketing Regulations 2008. These regulations cover a broader range of advertisements then the codes of practice drawn up by the committees of advertising practice, such as oral representations and descriptions on packaging.
Following changes to the consumer protection regime introduced by Government in April 2013, local authority Trading Standards Services have a greater role in the enforcement of consumer protection law at national level. The OFT retains (and from April 2014 the new Competition Markets Authority will inherit) all of its previous consumer enforcement powers but will now tend to use those powers where breaches of consumer protection law point to systemic failures in a market. This means cases will more often be taken against a number of firms in a market, rather than cases against individual firms, unless changing the behaviour of one firm would set a precedent or have other market-wide implications.
The OFT retains its lead role for the enforcement of the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999 although the Trading Standards Services has equal enforcement powers.
In the first instance consumers are encouraged to contact Citizens Advice regarding any problems they may have in buying goods or services.
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