‘Free’ deliveries that exclude Scots face crackdown

Customers in remote areas are being discriminated against. Picture: Rex/Shutterstock
Customers in remote areas are being discriminated against. Picture: Rex/Shutterstock
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The Advertising Standards Authority is considering a crackdown on firms which advertise UK-wide delivery if they penalise people living in more remote areas such as the Highlands and Islands.

Guy Parker, chief executive of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), said a proactive project to stop firms making misleading claims about delivery areas or charges would be among a series of recommendations which the organisation will put to the Consumer Protection Partnership, which is carrying out a review of evidence to decide whether action should be taken over the issue.

This comes just days after the UK government pledged to review the matter.

Parker said that the ASA had already upheld complaints against 11 companies over the past year that had fallen foul of advertising regulations by making claims over national or free delivery – but excluding areas of Scotland which are more difficult to reach.

The issue of higher delivery charges for those living in the north of Scotland was earlier this month addressed by Citizens Advice Scotland, which said customers were paying a “postcode penalty” of up to 50 per cent on surcharges imposed by delivery companies.

It also found that charges for parcel delivery are at least 30 per cent higher on average for the “Highlands and Islands” – which is taken to include urban locations such as Inverness and even parts of Aberdeen – than for other areas of mainland Great Britain.

Parker said: “We publish rulings on these kinds of issues on a regular basis. Companies are always saying ‘free delivery’, then it is only when you read that small print somewhere else that you find that doesn’t include certain parts of Scotland, or Northern Ireland.”

He said the ASA, which held a parliamentary reception in Holyrood earlier this week, was likely to recommend that it take on the issue as a project to proactively encourage companies to make the right decisions. It is increasingly moving towards more general projects, rather than only case-by-case “reactive” regulation of advertising.

He said: “It is potentially very powerful. We don’t have to wait for complaints, we can monitor and take action on our own initiative and we are looking at increasingly trying to rebalance our regulation so that we are trying not to spend quite so much time on reactive complaints. This issue could become one of these projects and we will be doing more on this next year.”

Three years ago, the ASA banned adverts for a furniture company, Achica, which showed a man sitting on a chair in a rural setting with the words: “Great brands... anywhere you can get online”, but did not deliver large items to the Shetland Islands.

The ASA claimed that the ad gave the impression if consumers ordered online that Achica would deliver any product ordered, even if they lived in a remote location.

So far this year, 6.8 per cent of the ASA’s complaints have been generated by Scottish consumers, new figures have shown, totalling 1,667 complaints out of 24,519 UK-wide.