Charities warned not to fall foul of new ASA online code

Extension of the code will cover statements organisations make on their own websites and others that they control

Guy Parker, chief executive, ASA
Guy Parker, chief executive, ASA

The Advertising Standards Authority's remit will be significantly extended next year to include claims organisations, including charities, make on websites, rather than only adverts in paid-for space and sales promotions.

The Committee of Advertising Practice Code, which sets the rules under which organisations must operate, will be extended from 1 March to cover statements organisations make on websites they control, including their own and other pages such as microsites or pages on the social networking website Facebook.

Guy Parker, chief executive of the ASA, told Third Sector the change was being introduced because of the volume of complaints the ASA had received from the public about claims on some websites, but which it could do nothing about.

He said that since the beginning of 2008 the ASA had received about 4,500 such complaints.

Parker said he expected the biggest impact of the extension on charities would be that they would need to ensure they complied with the code in their online fundraising communications, which will be included within the remit.

The existing general principles, such as that advertising must be responsible, must not mislead or offend, will still apply.

"Charities should apply the same sort of discipline of normal advertising rules to their websites," he said. "The danger with websites is that the controls aren't in place."

The extended remit will not cover marketing communications simply promoting causes or ideas, but it will apply to those that ask for a donation.

A page that had a video about a charity's cause and a donate button alongside it would however fall under the ASA's scrutiny, Parker said, because it was soliciting a donation.

The remit will also cover content that is written by a private individual, which is then incorporated in a charity's own marketing communications.

The ASA will have extended sanctions against organisations that refuse to follow the new code. Charities that fail to comply with the code after being instructed by the ASA could be added to a list on a special part of the ASA's website.

Parker said the ASA had spoken to Google in a bid to ensure that when someone searched for the name of a charity that had refused to comply, one of the top search results would be the webpage where the charity is listed.

Non-compliant charities could also see their paid-for search advertising removed and the ASA could place advertisements online highlighting an advertiser's continued non-compliance.

Parker said that in order to prepare for the code extension, charities should go to www.cap.org.uk and register for its free advice letters and consider signing up for some of the training sessions.

Key points of the legislation:

  • The new code will come into force on 1 March 2011
  • It will cover all online marketing communications controlled by any organisation, including a charity, but not those that do not sell or solicit donations
  • Those that refuse to comply could be added to a special list on the ASA's website

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