Response to todays’ ASA ruling

Response to the ASA ruling on my blog from 2014.

This paragraph was edited today 12.7.2018 at the request of Trading Standards – After contact with Cornwall Trading Standards (CTS) office regarding an alleged breach of Consumer Protection Offences, they provided clarification against alleged offences and how they would investigate.

Following that request and previous conversations, I have taken the decision that my original blog and tweet remain published and reiterate that I voluntarily placed this matter in the hands of CTS some weeks ago.

My response to the ASA ruling is as follows:

“This is a bizarre decision by the ASA that:

  • Undermines many of its own previous decisions and its own stated best practice* about objective substantiation.
  • Severely undermines the data and reliability of ZPG PLC as a supplier of reliable commercial and publicly available housing market data**
  • Fails to take account of evidenced cross-referenced data from HM Land Registry (HMLR) and ZPG PLC that evidence‘ data anomalies’ between what Purplebricks reported the status of a property to two different portals including properties marked and counted as sold in 2016/17 which are not showing as registered at HMLR
  • Appears to suggest that any agent can claim a 100% list to sold ratio by claiming an infinite marketing period – I.e. the property may sell at sometime in the next few millennia, therefore, it is inaccurate to class that customer as having lost money if it hasn’t sold within what many might deem a reasonable period of marketing (a twelve or more month marketing period)
  • May, if unchallenged, make all data-sourced referenced statements made by any journalist, business or campaign group etc. liable to a charge of being retrospectively labelled “misleading”. This appears to make any person making a statement in good faith based on referenced data in a blog or advertisement, vicariously liable if that data is later proved to be unreliable or flawed.

What is gratifying after almost a year of dealing with this case is that the data, having now been thoroughly cross-referenced, independently checked and passed on to trading standards officers shows that, in the postcode areas*** stated in my article, Purplebricks PLC have a listing to sold ratio of just 41% since they began trading in those areas, with 47% of properties marked (and cross-referenced) as genuinely withdrawn (no longer marketed anywhere Purplebricks have contractually committed to market customers homes). It is also clear that Purplebricks has either innocently, negligently, or deliberately listed and advertised some properties with different status’ to different data suppliers/ portals for purposes unknown. This information and all data has now been passed to Cornwall Trading Standards officers.

Whilst I need to make it very clear that these local area results may not reflect a true National picture, the 41% list to sold is far closer to Jefferies analysis of #PURP s’ National list to sold ratio of a coin toss chance of selling at 51%, and still a very long way away from the listing to sold ratio claim of 88% made by Mr Michael Bruce CEO in his BBC interview on Moneybox, the 91.4% list to sold ratio stated by Schillings, the PLCs’ libel lawyers**** in a cease and desist letter to me (reference attached) or, the in excess of 80% tweeted by Mr Kenny Bruce (Reference – see attached screengrab)

The ASA requires me to undertake to remove the article, with the sanction of reporting me to trading standards if I fail to comply. It is my understanding from the ASA and of normal practice that any complaint by the ASA will be passed to the advertisers local Trading Standards Team for investigation and, if appropriate, action. This ruling has come about in part due toZPG PLCs’ unreliable data. ZPG PLC have been contacted about this matter and further action may follow.

* Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation. (Reference https://www.asa.org.uk/type/non_broadcast/code_section/03.html )

**The ASA state that ZPG PLC informed the ASA that headings such as ‘withdrawn’ or ‘sold’, might not mean a property was withdrawn at all in some instances. Chris Wood states that, having cross-referenced the data with HM Land Registry, the EPC register and another independent data source, it is clear that the commercial data supplied by ZPG PLC was indeed unreliable, that ZPG PLC seemingly failed to undertake basic cross-referencing with open source government databases to validate their own data and, that, based on emails held by Chris Wood from the ASA, ZPG PLC were seemingly fully aware of this.

Extract of email to Chris Wood from the ASA with comment

“The Zoopla data

The Zoopla data does not reveal whether each property has been sold by PurpleBricks 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.

Interpretation of the claim on Twitter

We remain of the view that it cannot be guaranteed that properties which have not sold for ten months, may sell after those ten months. However, in any case, as we have set out in the Assessment, we cannot rely on the Jefferies Report as the figures do not relate to the period and region cited in the ad, and because we have not seen the source of the figure.”

[CW]  A property marked as withdrawn from sale can reasonably be regarded as withdrawn from sale when another heading from the same data set is marked as ‘SOLD’. It is either sold, withdrawn, sold stc or, still for sale. These are the clear and unambiguous headings used by ZPG.

[CW] ZPG appear to admit that the status of a property has been reported differently on different websites.Further checking of that data revealed, in some instances that the property had not been sold at all – (not showing at HMLR after a year or more)

[CW]  The ASA go on to imply in various emails, that any consumer must allow a property an infinite amount of time to sell before being able to claim they have not sold “instruct us to sell £1,199” This is unreasonable and undermines many agents claims, including PurpleBricks own published selling times claims. I am happy to test this matter with Trading Standards.

*** For postcode areas:                                               

TR3 TR3 6 TR3 7                                               

TR11 TR11 2 TR11 3 TR11 4 TR11 5 TR11 9                                           

TR12 TR12 6 TR12 7                                       

TR13 TR13 0 TR13 3 TR13 8 TR13 9                                          

TR14 TR14 0 TR14 7 TR14 8 TR14 9                                          

TR17 TR17 0                                      

TR18 TR18 2 TR18 3 TR18 4 TR18 5 TR18 9                                           

TR19 TR19 6 TR19 7                                       

TR20 TR20 8 TR20 9                                       

TR26 TR26 1 TR26 2 TR26 3 TR26 9                                          

TR27 TR27 4 TR27 5 TR27 6 TR27 9                                          

Date range 01/01/2014 – 04/05/2018 inclusive                                

NOTE: Purplebricks first instruction was                               

not registered in West Cornwall until 03/03/2015                                       

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