Letter from Trading Standards Services on Phil Parker Group and Lightning Process
30th March 2011
(bold italics are the blog author’s)
This is an update as to the progress of your complaint regarding The Phil Parker Group (referred to as TPPG). Thank you for all the information you have provided and I have spent some time doing my own research and speaking to experts. Clearly this is a complex matter which involves a large number of businesses spread over the UK.
I agree with your view that there are a number of areas of TPPG advertising methods which could mislead consumers. Our main aim here to is advise businesses in order to get them to comply with the law in the quickest and most efficient way.
Having read your initial complaint letter I can see you are familiar with the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (referred to as the CPRs).
As you have pointed out there are a number of areas where TPPG may have made misleading actions and omissions which constitute breaches of this legislation. This being the case, Regulation 19 (4) of the CPRs compels us to:
…have regard to the desirability of encouraging control of unfair commercial practices by such established means as it considers appropriate having regard to all the circumstances of the particular case.
What this means is that we should consider established means when deciding how to enforce the CPRs. In this case the established means for advertising issues would be the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). There are a number of reasons why the ASA would be best placed to initally deal with The Phil Parker Group, these are:
1) they have a national remit and can therefore adjudicate on businesses anywhere in the country. As we have previously discussed, there are Lightning Process practitioners all over the country. Therefore a national organisation would be best placed to deal with issues that cross local authority boundaries.
2) If the ASA adjudicate against one practitioner for displaying misleading information then they can easily apply the same adjudication to any other practitioner who displays the same information. This is unlike a criminal prosecution whereby each individual would have to be prosecuted for each individual offence. This will be particularly useful in instances where TPPG display information on their website that is replicated on many other websites.
3) Adjudications can be made public and the ASA can, if they so wish, publicise the fact that a business is refusing to comply with an adjudication. This is a very quick way to show a business may be doing something wrong without having to go to court. I have also found that the last ASA adjudication against a practitioner led to some significant changes on their website.
4) The CPRs can be fairly wide ranging and open to interpretation. The ASA codes are far more specific and make it easier to pinpoint areas where a business may be doing something wrong.
5) The ASA can ask a business to justify any claims they make. In a criminal prosecution we would have to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that the business was misleading consumers. Given the nature of some of the claims this could prove difficult to do.
As you may be aware internet advertising only became the remit of the ASA from 1st March 2011. I have been informed by them that they have received some complaints about this issue within the first week of March. Therefore the matter is currently under their consideration and we await any adjudication. I will also be making a complaint to the ASA on behalf of Hampshire Trading Standards to ensure that they cover all the areas that we have issues with – this will include their website and any YouTube videos The Phil Parker Group, or its associates, have published..
I have found from speaking to other Trading Standards departments and the ASA a number of Lightning Process Practitioners have shown a willingness to comply with the law when they are advised to do so. Therefore, at this stage I feel that ASA adjudications will be enough to make these businesses comply with ASA codes and CPRs. Should The Phip Parker Group refuse to amend their marketing to comply with ASA adjudications then we always have the option of criminal prosecutions.
I hope this makes sense and if you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact me.
Trading Standards Investigating Officer