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TODAY'S OTHER NEWS

Rebel agent turns fire on ZPG as advertising watchdog ponders sanctions

The Advertising Standards Authority says its compliance team is considering its next steps following the refusal of estate agency PDQ Estates to abide by a ruling - while the agent at the heart of the row is now turning his fire on ZPG.

Yesterday we published extensive details of the ASA’s ruling on a tweet and a blog entry posted by PDQ owner and long-time anti-online agency campaigner Chris Wood. 

The posts, last year made claims about the percentage of homes sold in parts of Cornwall - where PDQ is based - by online agency Purplebricks; the blog on the agency’s website made claims about half a billion pounds being wasted by vendors on online agencies. 

The ASA investigation examined extensive documentation provided by PDQ; the complaints were upheld and both the tweet and the blog entry were deemed misleading.

However, Wood says he is neither amending nor removing the misleading statements as requested by the ASA.

In a further post on his blog he now says: “After consultations and advice from Cornwall trading standards office, my original blog and tweet remain published and I voluntarily placed this matter in their hands some weeks ago” and he makes accusations about what he calls “ZPG’s unreliable data.”

However, in this latest blog Wood also says: “I need to make it very clear that these local area results may not reflect a true National picture”.

Now the Advertising Standards Authority is considering its next steps against Wood. In a statement to Estate Agent Today an authority spokesman says: “Following a published ruling against PDQ Estates for misleading advertising we will assess whether the advertiser has brought its claims into line with the rules. We are passing this matter over to our Compliance team who will consider next steps.”

The authority has a number of sanctions at its disposal if Wood refuses to make the requested changes - although it says these are some way away, and that its primary wish is to ensure all disputed advertisements are amended to remove misleading statements.

Firstly the compliance team itself can approach advertisers to try to secure their cooperation to bring their claims in line with ASA rules. 

Secondly, as set out on the ASA’s website, it can work with media owners to refuse an advertiser access to advertising space, working with search engines to remove paid-search ads as well as placing ASA ads in search engine results highlighting the advertiser’s non-compliance. There can also be the withdrawal of what the ASA calls “trading privileges” such as Royal Mail bulk mail discounts. 

The ASA website says: “One of our most persuasive sanctions is bad publicity – an advertiser’s reputation can be badly damaged if it is seen to be ignoring the rules designed to protect consumers.”

Its final sanction is to refer advertisers to other bodies - in this case Trading Standards - for further action.

“Additionally, any advertisements that break the Code are disqualified from industry awards, denying advertisers and the agencies that created the ads the opportunity to showcase their work” the ASA says.

In his latest blog, Wood says of his claims about ZPG’s data: “ZPG have been contacted about this matter and further action may follow.”

Wood has told Estate Agent Today he could not reveal what that action might be, but he has spoken with ZPG legal advisers “about the robustness of [ZPG’s] data.”

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    If the ASA, a non-Gov body with no statutory authority attempts to take any action which might damage my name or business prior to any formal ruling from Cornwall Trading Standards, it should be aware legal action may follow.

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    Way to go Chris !

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    Its a shame the ASA are going to use a sledgehammer here whilst the big onliners, who are constant and repeat offenders get a little slap on the wrist for each offense, then go away and produce more misleading advertising.

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    The rebel estate agent. Has a ring to it.

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    Andrew, the option of a slap on the wrist would have been open to PDQ Estates however their desire for publicity made them fight the claim.

    Chris Wood is again misleading by deflecting the attention to ZPG. There were many issues with the supposed substantiation according to the ASA. Not least the fact that the sample size being used by PDQ was just 15 properties "However that data only related to 15 properties, which was not sufficient to support a claim about the whole UK market". Also the fact that Cornwall is not representative of the UK "the infographic they provided was only based on the West Cornwall area, which we considered was not sufficient to make a claim about the whole the UK market as there was no evidence that properties sold in West Cornwall would be representative of the UK". I think also the data provided did not correspond to the period in question and because the source was not known could not be relied on for evidence "In any case, because we had not seen the source of the figure, we could not rely it on as evidence.".

    So Andrew, take no notice of what Chris is saying. He couldn't come close to substantiating his claims and instead of accepting this and taking an informal decision decided to fight and lost.

    Also ignore his volunteering to his local Trading Standards. Again this is publicity seeking. Trading Standards have a dedicated department based in Wales for Estate Agency matters.


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    Mr Lawson. I would advise that you choose your wording very carefully on this or in any written or verbal form.

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    From your website Chris "It is quite right and proper that every company and individual is entitled to protect its interests if it believes it has been misrepresented, libelled or slandered. It is also the case that some companies use the law to silence journalists, the public or competitors who are asking awkward questions or making perfectly fair and reasonable complaints which the company were rather not aired."

    If you think anything I have said misrepresents you, libels or slanders you just let me know what the issue is, what damage has been caused and I'll consider putting it right.

    If you don't reply I'll assume the latter applies "some companies use the law to silence journalists, the public or competitors who are asking awkward questions or making perfectly fair and reasonable complaints which the company were rather not aired"

    That is unless you were threatening to send the boys round.

     
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    A simple question for you Chris.

    Do you think a sample size of 15 is adequate to make the claim "“Cheap agents could cost UK consumers up to half a £Billion in wasted fees”

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    Mr Lawson, Shelter and the CAB use a similarly small samples sizes to produce outrageous claims that the 'Majority' of landlords and agents are all rogues.

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    So you agree that this sample size is inadequate?

     
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    Mr Lawson. I am happy to stand by whatever Cornwall Trading Standards rule on this matter. They are the statutory authority who has jurisdiction over this matter. I am also happy to answer reasonable questions posed by anyone with reasonable intelligence and good manners. I am not of the opinion that you meet that criteria. Until such time as Cornwall TSO rule on this matter, there is no one with statutory authority who has made any ruling about the legality or otherwise of my post. Making verbal or written statements that imply or state otherwise should, therefore, be considered carefully. My article makes it clear that the sample refers to a specific geographic area and that the figures quoted nationally are an extrapolation of that area. A practice that many advertisers utilise but don't perhaps, always make so clear. The ASA also make it clear that the data on which the original blog was based was verified by ZPG as not having been tampered with or altered by me and, subsequently, allege that ZPG admits that the data headings supplied by ZPG may not be reliable. The ASA also imply that ZPG seem aware that they have commercially supplied information which may have been recorded differently on different databases without being cross-referenced against open source government data. Not directly related to my blog but you might also wish to consider that Mr Bruce CEO of Purplebricks PLC publicly stated to the BBC that his company sold (completed) on 88% of everything they list. His successor, when interviewed by the BBC, was very keen to water that down to a 78% listing to STC ratio. Perhaps you might like to direct your immense logic and time to find an answer to that question which thousands of people will almost certainly have used to rely on when choosing what to invest in or who to sell through.


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    >They are the statutory authority who has jurisdiction over this matter. No, Chris, they may offer an opinion but it is not their jurisdiction to decide issues. Trading Standards have taken cases to Court & lost so don't try and pull the wool over people's eyes. The ASA do actually have jurisdiction to decide whether an advert is misleading. >there is no one with statutory authority who has made any ruling about the legality or otherwise of my post Doesn't mean it's not misleading though. The same applies for the rulings against PurpleBricks but that doesn't stop you from claiming they've misled does it? Incidentally, didn't you make a joint application with your local trading standards to the ASA and lose the case? Kind of suggests they don't have jurisdiction doesn't it if Trading Standards are making applications to the ASA? >The ASA also make it clear that the data on which the original blog was based was verified by ZPG as not having been tampered with or altered by me and, subsequently, allege that ZPG admits that the data headings supplied by ZPG may not be reliable. Well this wasn't mentioned in the report. https://www.asa.org.uk/rulings/pdq-estates-ltd-a17-401398.html Having looked at your blog you state the ASA said in an email "While I appreciate you took the data at face value, your reliance on it does render the claims in your ads misleading because your claims assume that all properties cited as “withdrawn” have not been sold." The key word being "assume". Something you do a lot of. Let me quote you "Having checked the evidence and drawn on my experience, I tend to believe I am right until I am proved I am wrong or the evidence changes". Hardly confidence inspiring is it? >[The ASA] "allege that ZPG admits that the data headings supplied by ZPG may not be reliable". Given your ability to make false assumptions I'd like to see that allegation. The comment from your blog suggests your assumptions were incorrect. Pretty vague anyway! It is up to you to check what data represents and not jump to conclusions. You really have to stop passing the buck for your own failings and notwithstanding your misinterpretation of the ZPG data, the ASA ruled your claims were misleading for other reasons, all valid in their own right. I've never known such hypocrisy, still pointing the finger elsewhere.


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    "The ASA is a non-statutory organisation and so cannot interpret or enforce legislation. " Source https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advertising_Standards_Authority_(United_Kingdom) "Ultimately if advertisers and broadcasters persistently break the Advertising Codes and don’t work with us, we can and do refer them to other bodies for the further action, such as Trading Standards or Ofcom. " Source https://www.asa.org.uk/codes-and-rulings/sanctions.html Extract of email from the ASA to me: "because Zoopla have said that “withdrawn” properties could include properties sold by PurpleBricks on their own website. While I appreciate you took the data at face value, your reliance on it does render the claims in your ads misleading because your claims assume that all properties cited as “withdrawn” have not been sold. We have not concluded that all properties marked as withdrawn have been sold elsewhere. Instead, we have concluded that it cannot be assumed that all properties marked as withdrawn have ¬not been sold elsewhere" So, a property marked as "sold" in ZPG commercial data might be withdrawn and a property marked as withdrawn might be sold or still for sale, or either status or, in the case of more than one property we checked having three or more conflicting statuses over several sources of information (Purplebricks own website, Rightmove, HMRC and Zoopla). If simple headings cannot be relied upon, the data is unreliable. It is reasonable to rely on a commercial data suppliers' data. It is reasonable to expect where several data classifications are used in the same document that they do, indeed, represent that status. I.e. Sold means the property has sold (completed), for sale means the property is still for sale and, withdrawn means the property has been withdrawn which, logically and reasonably, given an alternative and clear status of 'sold' should indicate that the property has been withdrawn as unsold.


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    Chris, I'm afraid you need to read words more carefully.

    The facts of the matter are that the ASA have been given jurisdiction to determine whether an advert is misleading which is what they've done. Trading Standards do not have jurisdiction to determine this but of course may hold and express an opinion which they would have to present to the courts if they thought it was in the public interest.
    Hence the application with yourself and Trading Standards to the ASA. Trading Standards clearly don't have jurisdiction to determine whether an advert is misleading otherwise they wouldn't have gone to the ASA would they?

    See https://www.asa.org.uk/rulings/purplebricks-group-plc-a17-376791.html

    "Four complainants, including Plymouth Trading Standards, Alexander Dawson (an Independent property consultant) and PQD Estates Ltd challenged whether the references to “Local Property Experts” were misleading and could be substantiated."

    You of course failed with that complaint and didn't seem to understand that decision either.

    Weren't you compliance officer at the NAEA? Frightening!

    I think you need to look at all your claims again. One that springs to mind as something you would not be able to substantiate is an advert by PurpleBricks which didn't mention it was for an LPE but you assumed it was. That's just speculation as with a lot of your claims.

    I honestly can't trust any of the points you make when you demonstrate such a poor understanding of what substantiation entails.

    Your comment earlier "My article makes it clear that the sample refers to a specific geographic area and that the figures quoted nationally are an extrapolation of that area" shows a complete lack of understanding. It's not just a matter of saying what you've done, it also has to be reasonable. The sample has to be a good representation and 15 properties in Cornwall is both too small a sample and non-representative of the UK as a whole (or do you actually think your postcodes are a good cross-section of the UK?)

    Do you think it would be OK to say you have 3 apples and put a little asterix and subtext saying "where 1 + 1 = 3"? There's a lot more to substantiation than just writing how you've come to the answer. The reasoning must be robust.

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    Perhaps it would be helpful for readers for you Mr Lawson to declare what your background is as you really seem to have a grudge against Mr Wood who ultimately is simply trying to protect his business from misinformation by others.

  • Kelvin Francis

    I agree with Freedom Road' please tell us Mr Lawson if you work for, or have a personal or financial interest in Purple Bricks? Although it is only an assumption that properties withdrawn from Zoopla are not sold, it stretches credulity, that they wouldn't wish to display that fact for marketing purposes. Every Real Estate Agency knows that sales of 88% going through, or even 71% just doesn't happen, even though our friends at Purple Bricks claim that they are 'better than Real Estate Agents'. While we are talking about it, how do the ASA accept the claim that the savings with PB. are the difference between their, paid up front fees and 1.3%. We would be in heaven if we got that level of fees, 1% is the top level, and more likely it is 0.75% or 0.5%, even includi8ng VAT.

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    >I agree with Freedom Road' please tell us Mr Lawson if you work for, or have a personal or financial interest in Purple Bricks?

    No.

    Let's not get too hung up on just one of the issues the ASA had with Chris Woods' attempt at substantiation of his claims. Let me summarise them here:


    1. “We therefore considered that the properties which had been cited as withdrawn were very likely to include properties which had been sold on other websites”

    2. “in one spreadsheet, the Land Registry data was incomplete, while the second spreadsheet was only comprised of properties cited as withdrawn. Furthermore, neither of the spreadsheets matched the list of properties instructed by PurpleBricks between October 2016 and 2017. We therefore considered that those spreadsheets could not be relied upon to determine the percentage of properties in that period that had been withdrawn without a sale.”

    3. “That did not mean, however, that those properties were never sold after those ten months, and those figures did not in any case relate to the period and region cited in the ad. In any case, because we had not seen the source of the figure, it could not be relied upon as evidence.”

    4. “the infographic they provided was only based on the West Cornwall area, which we considered was not sufficient to make a claim about the whole of the UK market as there was no evidence that properties sold in West Cornwall would be representative of the UK”

    5. “PDQ had not shown us where the figures in the infographic were taken from, so we were unable to verify them. Similarly, they had not provided verification for the data in the image of the PowerPoint slide.”

    6. “PDQ had provided further data obtained from Zoopla to substantiate the claim. However, that data only related to 15 properties, which was not sufficient to support a claim about the whole UK market.”

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    And your background Mr Lawson is .............???

  • Tony Sinclair

    Cat fight! Meow....

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