How to complain to the ASA
Unfortunately, in the world of comping, things don’t always run smoothly. There are dodgy promoters, dodgy compers and even dodgy prizes! With social media so widely used, complaining is easier and more effective than it used to be. In most cases, you can contact promoters on Twitter or Facebook, and as a result complaints are usually dealt with swiftly for fear of a PR disaster. Most promoters will act on a polite message or tweet, and work to get things fixed.
In some cases though, promoters can be rather stubborn, and you might decide to submit a formal complaint to the ASA if you think a competition or prize draw has been unfairly run. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) makes sure all advertising is legal, decent, honest and truthful. All prize promotions must comply with the British Code of Advertising Practice (the CAP Code). If you believe a promotion or advertisement is in breach of the CAP Code, you can complain.
Don’t worry that complaining will affect your chance of winning with a certain promoter. When you complain, your name will NOT usually be disclosed to the promoter – unless for example, you’re chasing a missing prize in which case the promoter will need to know who you are. It may take time to submit your complaint, but in many cases the ASA involvement or published ruling will be a kick up the arse for the promoter or agency involved, who will hopefully conduct their promotions in a fairer manner in future!
Most people aren’t actually aware of what you can complain about – here are a few suggestions, and the relevant parts of the CAP Code (read section 8 of the code for further details):
The promoter won’t tell me who won
CAP Code 8.28.5: Promoters must either publish or make available information that indicates that a valid award took place – ordinarily the surname and county of major prizewinners and, if applicable, their winning entries. At or before the time of entry, promoters must inform entrants of their intention to publish or make available the information and give them the opportunity to object to their information being published or made available, or to reduce the amount of information published or made available. In such circumstances, the promoter must nevertheless still provide the information and winning entry to the ASA if challenged. The privacy of prizewinners must not be prejudiced by the publication of personal information and in limited circumstances (for example, in relation to National Savings) promoters may need to comply with a legal requirement not to publish such information.
After rushing to get my entry in, the promoter extended the closing date
CAP Code 8.17.4e: Closing dates must not be changed unless unavoidable circumstances beyond the control of the promoter make it necessary and either not to change the date would be unfair to those who sought to participate within the original terms, or those who sought to participate within the original terms will not be disadvantaged by the change.
I missed out on a prize because the promoter said I had 24 hours to claim it
CAP Code 8.22: Promoters must not claim that consumers must respond by a specified date or within a specified time if they need not.
There are no T&Cs on the competition tweet or Facebook post
CAP Code 8.28: Participants must be able to retain conditions or easily access them throughout the promotion.
I don’t think the winner was chosen at random
CAP Code 8.24: Promoters of prize draws must ensure that prizes are awarded in accordance with the laws of chance and, unless winners are selected by a computer process that produces verifiably random results, by an independent person, or under the supervision of an independent person.
There are exceptions of course – for example, if you win gig tickets you would have to respond quickly to claim them, or a closing date might be extended due to technical difficulties with an app. But in most cases the promoter should have a very good reason to breach the Code – even on Twitter every competition tweet should include a link to T&Cs. You might find a link to the Sales Promotions section of the CAP Code useful if you’re communicating with a promoter who doesn’t know the rules.
The CAP Code was updated post-GDPR and promoters are no longer required to share details of their winners on request – but if challenged, they must share winner’s details with the ASA and prove to the ASA that the prize was awarded.
A few other examples of competition related complaints include:
- A winner who didn’t comply with the T&Cs
- A ‘fake’ winner in a prize promotion, or a winner who works for the promoter
- A competition to win a ‘family holiday’ which, when you check the T&Cs, can’t be taken during school holidays (see Family holiday prizes… in term time?)
- A scam Facebook page giving away thousands of iPads
- A prize that hasn’t showed up after 28 days (see How to chase a missing prize)
- A voting competition where the winner cheated by purchasing or exchanging fake votes online
- A Facebook competition stating the ‘most creative’ entry will win, but the promoter then puts it to a public vote
These are just a few examples of complaints. There are many reasons for someone to complain to the ASA – and we don’t do it enough. Every dodgy comp or promoter we complain about is a reason for the ASA and CAP to take a long hard look at how badly a lot of competitions and prize draws are conducted in the UK – especially on social media.
How to complain
First of all, collect everything you can to help the ASA with their investigation – you can upload file attachments to the complaint form. The earlier you make a complaint, the more likely it is that the ASA can act while the prize promotion is still live – be sure to submit your complaint within three months of the advertising appearing.
- Printed materials – take a photo or scan the entry form, magazine advert, etc.
- Web addresses/URLs for the promotion or T&Cs – click in your browser address bar to select the web address and copy it. To find the link to a tweet or Facebook post click the ‘timestamp’ under the post (eg. 4 hrs or Oct 24) to open in a new window, then copy the link from your browser bar.
- Screenshots – take screenshots of promotional material and T&Cs in case the promoter changes the information on their website or social media pages.
- Text – copy and paste the original details/T&Cs of the promotion into a text file and save it.
Submit your complaint on the Make a Complaint page at www.asa.org.uk.
- Select Are you complaining as a member of the public.
- Complete your contact details
- Choose the type of promotion/advertisement you’re complaining about. For compers, possible categories could be Online > Within a company’s own, or other type of website (which covers Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) or Packaging
- Upload up to three files by clicking Choose file, browse for your screenshots/scans then click Upload. Finally, add in a website link for the promotion if it’s still available.
- Say where and when you saw the promotion, who the advertiser is, and the product being advertised (the product is the competition or prize draw).
- Add a detailed description of your complaint. You might want to type your complaint in Word or a Notes file first, and save a copy for reference – then copy and paste it on the website.
You can click on any step to go back and edit before clicking Submit.
What happens next
When the ASA receives your submission, they will let you know if they will take up your complaint. The ASA may be able to resolve the complaint quickly by contacting the promoter, rather than conducting a formal investigation – for example, they could chase up an undelivered prize. Formal investigations take longer. The advertiser will be contacted and asked to provide evidence, the ASA Council will decide whether or not the CAP Code has been breached, and a ruling of ‘Upheld’ (the ASA agrees with your complaint) or ‘Not Upheld’ (the ASA disagrees) will be published on the ASA website. If the complaint is ‘Not Upheld’ no further action is taken.
If you’re not happy with the ASA ruling, there is an Independent Review Procedure that allows complainants and advertisers to request a review within 21 days of the ASA decision.
Rulings are published on the ASA website every week and in some cases the national press have picked up on stories of promotions gone bad If the rules have been breached, the advertisement must be changed or withdrawn. This rarely occurs with prize promotions as by the time an investigation is conducted, the promotion is usually over. Persistent offenders may be referred to Trading Standards or Ofcom for further action.
If you do have a problem with a prize promotion, do your best to sort it out directly via email or social media. A polite Facebook post or message can sometimes be enough for a promoter to realise they’ve made a mistake and fix it – and hopefully they won’t make that mistake again! Most promoters and agencies don’t want the bad publicity of an ASA ruling against them, but if you’ve done all you can with no luck then don’t be afraid to register a formal complaint with the ASA – and let me know how you get on!