The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has upheld dozens of complaints against “misleading” Universal Credit adverts that appeared on Mail Online, Metro online and the Metro newspaper.
The watchdog received 44 complaints from charities and organisations including the Disability Benefits Consortium, an umbrella group that represents more than 100 charities and disabled people’s organisations.
ASA found that a claim made by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), that people on Universal Credit move into work quicker than those on legacy benefits, could not be substantiated with evidence.
ASA also found that two other DWP claims in the adverts were unsubstantiated – that advancement payments will be made to those in need and rent payments can be paid directly to landlords.
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.”
The Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) is now demanding an apology from the DWP.
Jonathan Blades, External Relations Manager at the MS Society and Parliamentary Co-Chair of the DBC, said: “This ruling exposes the DWP’s indefensible attempt to provide inaccurate information to vulnerable people.
“The fact is that Universal Credit is leaving disabled people significantly worse off, and in some cases forcing them to turn to food banks.
“It’s equally disgraceful these adverts have cost the taxpayer more than £225,000, at a time when disabled people are typically losing £1,200 a year thanks to welfare system changes.”
Michael Paul, DRUK’s Head of Advice and Information said: “Universal Credit has been deeply flawed from the start.
“It’s long been clear that back to work initiatives, with their expensive, inefficient and stressful assessment processes, perform no better than when the job centres provide the support themselves.
“Rather than spending taxpayers money on misleading the public, we would ask the government to instead concentrate on reforming Universal Credit to really support those who claim it.”
Responding to ASAs decision to ban the adverts, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Margaret Greenwood said: “It is shameful that this Conservative government chose to waste thousands of pounds on misleading ads about Universal Credit rather than ending the harsh, punitive policies that are causing such severe hardship.
“They can’t hide the truth that if people are being forced in ever-increasing numbers to turn to food banks to survive, the social security system is not protecting people from poverty as it should.
“The reality is that advances are loans that need to be paid back, often on top of other debts and rent arrears built up during the five-week wait, leaving many people at risk of destitution.
“Labour will scrap Universal Credit, end the five-week wait and abolish the benefit cap and the two-child limit. This is real change that will make a difference to people’s lives, not misleading PR.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “We consulted at length with the ASA as we created the adverts, which have explained to hundreds of thousands of people how UC is helping more than 2.5 million people across the country.”