Last year, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) put advertisers on notice that it wouldn't tolerate misleading savings claims about energy bills in the context of the cost of living crisis.

Now, the ASA has put Churchill Retirement Living under the microscope for claims made on its website and in paid-for social media advertising.

The ASA was concerned that advertised cost savings from downsizing to a Churchill apartment were not sufficiently representative and/or not sufficiently explained. They were also concerned about the alarmist language and narrative used, presenting retirees as having to return to work or ration heating in their existing dwellings.

This ruling serves as a reminder:

  • to ensure cost savings claims are substantiated, accurate and clarified with appropriate qualifying wording;
  • to be sensitive to vulnerable people's fears concerning energy costs and the cost of living; and
  • that the ASA will continue to keep an eye on claims that consumers can save money on their bills and launch investigations proactively without waiting for a complaint to be made.

Claims made on Churchill's website and paid-for Facebook post

In March 2023, Churchill's website and Facebook ad highlighted the financial benefits of downsizing to a Churchill apartment.

The website included a video featuring Dame Esther Rantzen discussing the increasing expenses retirees face and the savings potential of downsizing.

An 'independent' energy expert compared energy costs between a three-bedroom house and a Churchill apartment before claiming potential savings of over £1,000 per year on energy bills alone.

The Facebook ad echoed this message of affordability. It also included a video with Esther Rantzen and 'independent' energy experts demonstrating the energy efficiency of Churchill apartments compared to larger homes. The experts showcased the superior insulation of the apartments, emphasising potential savings that could be as high as £2,300 annually.

The ASA's proactive investigation

Both the website and Facebook ad encouraged viewers to consider downsizing with Churchill Retirement Living as a means of maintaining their standard of living without financial stress.

The ASA proactively challenged whether the savings claims were misleading as well as irresponsible for exploiting the current cost of living crisis.

Churchill's response and the ASA's ruling

In response to the ASA's challenge, Churchill contended that moving to one of their properties could result in significant energy and overall cost savings for consumers.

They explained that the sustainability consultants calculated the £1,000 annual energy cost saving by comparing a 'typical' three-bedroom semi-detached house to one of Churchill's apartments. The consultants believed the chosen property was representative of the average UK housing stock, supported by an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC), while Churchill explained that energy efficiency for all their properties was similar, arguing that their representations were reasonable and not misleading.

The ASA scrutinised this claim and, while agreeing that the non-Churchill property was reasonably representative of average UK housing, it was concerned that the energy source and rating of the Churchill property were not.

The ASA found that not all Churchill properties had the same energy efficiency rating or used the same energy sources. Given the comparison didn't explain this, the ASA thought consumers would be misled into believing they could save over £1,000 in energy costs, when a switch to a lower energy-rated property or one with a different energy source would not deliver that saving.

Regarding the overall cost savings claim of £2,300 per year, Churchill explained their methodology, contrasting different property types against Churchill apartments. They accounted for factors such as EPC data, home insurance, Council Tax, service charges, and utility bills.

The ASA acknowledged the calculations but flagged discrepancies in Churchill's representation of the savings, particularly in relation to energy costs and property sizes. The ASA was not convinced the non-Churchill properties picked for the comparison were representative – they used significantly more energy than average, giving a misleading savings figure when compared with the Churchill apartments.

Overall, the ASA determined that without a clear explanation of the basis of the comparison, the advertisements risked misleading consumers about the extent of potential savings.

Socially irresponsible

Churchill addressed its depiction of the cost of living crisis, explaining the impact on older individuals living in large, inefficient homes with high running costs. They wanted to educate consumers about cost-saving opportunities, presenting downsizing to smaller, energy-efficient properties as a solution.

Notwithstanding Churchill's arguments, the ASA concluded that the claims made in the video on the website were fear-inducing. The ASA was particularly concerned with the video's depiction of retirees' struggles with rising expenses, using a narrative that they would be forced into returning to work or rationing heating.

The ASA deemed the narrative of the ads to be overly negative, emphasising fear and distress without justifiable reason, particularly for older audiences. Despite valid messages about energy efficiency and cost considerations, Churchill's approach was seen as exacerbating anxiety and portraying alternatives as costly and burdensome, leading to the ads being deemed irresponsible.

Key takeaways and practical tips:

  1. Savings claims must be accurate, supported by robust evidence and appropriately qualified so the basis for your savings claim is clear.
  2. Make sure you are not exaggerating the benefits of your product or service.
  3. Prepare ads with a sense of responsibility to the target audience – think about whether your messaging is appropriate for those consumers (the ASA may adopt a higher standard where elderly people are the target audience).
  4. Be sensitive to vulnerable people's fears around the costs of living and the risk of causing them distress.
  5. Seek advice – the ASA is more proactive than ever and won't hesitate to take action itself to ensure consumers are protected.

Read the original article on

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.