The Advertising Standards Authority has banned a statement by the estate and letting agency review site raterAgent describing it as the "most trustworthy” of its kind.
The site has also been told it must have “adequate evidence” before making comparative claims of the kind that has now landed it in hot water.
The complaint to the ASA came from allAgents Ltd., a long-standing rival review website which yesterday released its annual awards for agents.
allAgents complained to the ASA about the text on raterAgent which stated: "rateragent.co.uk is the UK's most trustworthy site for getting proof of the quality of an estate or letting agent's service. Using ... checked and verified reviews, from people just like you that have gone through the same process ...".
allAgents claimed to the ASA that is was not possible to verify that all reviews were genuine, and therefore challenged whether the claim that raterAgent was the "most trustworthy" was misleading and could be substantiated.
In its response to the ASA’s investigation, raterAgents said its system for establishing the trustworthiness of reviews consisted of 13 algorithmic checks - for example, IP address, email address and similar - followed by detailed human moderation such as checking social media and other resources.
raterAgent told the ASA that authors of reviews that were considered suspicious were then informed that their review would not be shown on raterAgent.
raterAgent said factual information such as branch contact details and staff names could be updated by a branch in real time without charge; that queries from other parties would receive a response within 24 hours; and that an agent could appeal the inclusion or exclusion of a review by supplying evidence to raterAgent.
In making a judgement, the ASA considered the claim suggested that the process by which reviews were checked for authenticity by raterAgent was more demanding and more stringent than the processes operated by their competitors, and that the information provided to consumers by raterAgent was more reliable than that provided by their competitors.
“We noted the procedures raterAgent had in place to check reviews and that raterAgent had identified practices adopted by their competitors which they considered were likely to raise concerns about reliability and trustworthiness” said the statement from the ASA.
“They included an absence of information about the respective amounts agents paid to be featured; the payment of fees by agents to correct errors; and discrepancies in the order in which agents were listed, with the first agents listed not necessarily being the ones who had received the most positive reviews while some agents with poor reviews were not listed at all.
“Although we considered those points were likely to be important to consumers, we also noted that the comparative information supplied by raterAgent stated that there was no readily-available information regarding how reviews were verified and how many were rejected by their competitors.
“Because of that, we considered we had not seen sufficient comparative evidence to be able to determine whether raterAgent's procedures for checking reviews, and consequently the trustworthiness of those reviews, was superior to the procedures of their competitors.
“Therefore, we concluded that raterAgent had not substantiated the claim and that it was likely to mislead.”
raterAgent has been told that the claim must not appear again in its current form. “We told raterAgent to ensure they held adequate evidence for comparative claims in future” said an ASA statement.
raterAgent has issued a lengthy press release in response to the judgement claiming: “Essentially the silence of raterAgent’s competitors on their checking and rejection criteria mean that raterAgent can’t exhaustively prove its highly-visible ones are more trustworthy.”
The site’s chief executive Mal McCallion claims it is his rival’s “refusal to share information on the number of review that they reject which is specifically stated by the ASA as the reason for this judgement.”