Print This Post
Product: Business Service
Advertiser: Irish Claims Authority
Medium: Internet (Company Website)
ASAI Code 7th Edition: 2.4(C), 3.2, 3.3, 3.4, 3.5, 3.32, 3.34, 4.1, 4.4, 4.9, 4.10, 4.35, 4.36, 13.1
The home page of the advertisers’ website included the following:
“Irish Claims Authority Údarás Éilimh na hÉireann
Irish Claims Authority. The Independent Service that Assesses Compensation Claims FREE online claim assessment”.
Four boxes with text stated:
Information Claimants Respondents Experts Claim Types How to claim Responding to a claim About the Panel No Win No Fee Online claim form FAQ's Joining the Panel FAQ's Claim Calculator FAQ's
“The Irish Claims Authority provide a panel of experts who can assess cases on merit and quantum. We do not charge for this service. They are on hand to provide you with a detailed assessment of your case regardless of type, including whether the circumstances give rise to a viable claim and also the level of damages you should expect to receive. This is a service provided to the public free of charge. If your case involves an injury, or (sic) experts can arrange for a full submission to the Injuries Board or in other cases to the Irish Courts directly.
We also provide an automated online claims calculator (specifically related to personal injury claims in Ireland however). This tool can show how much you can claim and the amounts of personal injury awards, should it be assessed by the Personal Injuries Assessment Board following an accident. Our claims calculator uses the most up to date Personal Injuries Guidelines which replaced the old Book of Quantum.”
The home page also included the following:
233.7 83477 98.73% Millions of Damages in Euro Total Cases Assessed Assessed within 48 hours (2020)
The bottom of the home page included contact details for the advertiser including a telephone number, email address and a postal address.
About Us Page:
“The Irish Claims Authority is Ireland’s leading provider of advice, services and support for people who need to claim compensation or are subject to a claim against them. Our Certified Experts are all officially regulated and have helped more people in Ireland than anyone else.”
Under the ‘Our Team’ section of the page it included the following:
“Our advisors are based throughout Ireland and can advise on the law in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. All are legally trained, so that they’re ready to help you when you contact us.”
“Our experts work on a no win no fee basis, which means if your claim isn’t successful, then you won’t need to pay any money.”
Experts Panel Page included the following:
“The ICA Certified Logo
Members of the Irish Claims Authority expert panel are entitled to use the ICA Certified Logo on their stationary and advertising to demonstrate their competence and expertise in achieving membership of the select group of the ICA Certified Claims Assessors.”
Complaints were received from the Law Society of Ireland, the Personal Injuries Assessment Board and ISME. The complainants raised the following issues:
Two complainants considered that the website was a claims harvesting website as the website was attracting potential claimants. They said that it was typical of claims harvesting websites to include ‘free assessment’ forms and ‘compensation calculators’ providing assessments to potential claimants.
The complainants considered that the website created the impression that a visitor was dealing with a State agency through its use of colour, graphics, fonts and language.
The Personal Injuries Assessment Board considered that the website was modelled on their own site and stated that they were the only official and independent State body established under law to assess personal injury claims in Ireland.
The complainants also considered that the name itself ‘Irish Claims Authority’ was implying that it was an official body as they considered that only official bodies were called Authorities. They also noted that the advertiser had included their name in Irish, which they considered would lead users to believe it was a state body as state bodies in Ireland were required to provide their name in both Irish and English.
One complainant considered that the claims regarding the amount of damages, number of cases assessed and the percentage of cases assessed within 48 hours in 2020 was misleading given that the company were only established in May 2021.
One complainant did not consider that the website was prepared with a sense of responsibility to vulnerable individuals who wished to assert their legal rights and seek redress for personal injury, particularly as no information was provided as to who sat on the advertisers’ expert panel, who trained their advisers and whether they were regulated.
Another complainant objected on the same grounds as they considered a consumer could mistakenly believe that they were dealing with the PIAB when the advertisers were a commercial business who sought to send claim contacts onwards to solicitors who in turn
charged significant fees to their clients. They considered there were serious potential outcomes that a consumer would face in the event of using the advertised service as opposed to using the statutory body, as they could be subjected to legal costs in contrast to the very low statutory fee for using the PIAB service and they could also be unaware of their obligations and could miss the deadline for lodging a claim through the PIAB, the only body established to receive and assess such claims, leading to them being disadvantaged due to the fact that under the legislation that established the PIAB, where a person makes a compensation claim to PIAB using the PIAB website or on paper and the application is deemed complete, the statutory time-scale within which they can make a claim, stops under law. This means that even if more than two years passes, their right to make a claim is protected by this statute-stop power by the PIAB. The complainants said that if a claimant used the advertisers’ website in the mistaken belief that it was the PIAB’s site, then they were at risk that their claim may not have been made to the PIAB during the two years that they are allowed to submit such a claim, and the statutory time length would not pause. If a person were to make a claim to the advertisers’ website and if the two-year period passes, they would then be unable to submit a claim under law and would therefore be at a financial loss.
The complainants said that the advertisers were a private commercial organisation with no statutory role or duty applying to the processing of a claim and that a claimant would have no way of knowing what would happen to a claim they thought they were bringing to the advertisers, whereas anyone dealing with PIAB has the protection of dealing with a State organisation with statutory powers and duties.
One complainant did not consider that the identity of the advertisers was made clear and that consumers engaging with the advertisers would not be able to clearly identify who they were engaged with.
One complainant objected to the claims “Ireland’s leading provider of advice” and “Our certified experts are all officially regulated and have helped more people in Ireland than anyone else” on the grounds that they considered they were designed to create the impression that a visitor was dealing with an approved and accredited organisation.
The advertisers responded to the issues raised.
The advertisers said that the evidence provided by the complainants to support the suggestion that their website was a claims harvesting site was at best vague. They contended that the complainants were incorrect as the bulk of the content on their website was informational. The advertisers denied that their service was claims harvesting and said that if a consumer submitted a query, it was passed to an appropriate panel expert (who may or may not be a solicitor - they could for instance be a public loss assessor). They referred to the fact that a solicitor in Ireland was not allowed to reward an unqualified person for the introduction of legal work (Section62(1) of the Solicitor's Act, 1954).
They said that whatever retainer a solicitor has with their client was a matter for them as they are not party to it and had no knowledge of it. They confirmed that all their panel had agreed to provide free initial advice to consumers. They said that they never charge consumers, however, whatever arrangements that a consumer may later have with a solicitor or other expert was a matter for them.
In response to the complaints the advertisers stated that they had at no point said that they were a state agency and there was nothing on their website that suggested they were state run. They said they had not used any logos or other emblems (such as the State’s Irish Harp) that would give such an impression. They also said that they were clear at the top of their website that they were independent, and their terms and conditions stated that they were run by an independent commercial organisation with the objective of providing useful information on all aspects of claiming compensation in Ireland. They said that they were not owned by, run or controlled by, either directly or indirectly, the Law Society of Ireland, the Injuries Board, the Law Society of Northern Ireland or by any law firm.
Regarding their name appearing in Irish on their website, the advertisers said that there was no legislation either in the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland that placed restrictions on any organisation using Ireland’s national language.
The advertisers said that their website had not been modelled on the PIAB website, and they did not consider that the two sites were even similar.
Finally, the advertisers stated that they were prepared to remove the word Authority if it would resolve the complaints.
The advertisers said that at no point did they suggest that they had secured any amount of money, rather they were clear that members of their expert panel had pursued cases and obtained settlements for members of the public. They also stated that they had not said that they handled the amounts referred to, as these were the aggregates of their panel and demonstrated their competence and adeptness in managing claims. The advertisers said that the figure on the home page was calculated by way of the average claims amounts in each jurisdiction multiplied by the volume they passed to panel members in that jurisdiction. They said that they could not provide an individual figure for Ireland as they no longer held the source data on which to calculate. They also advised that the total included many claim types including property damage, debt recovery, contractual disputes etc and was not solely related to personal injuries. Finally, they said that they operated in many countries other than Ireland.
The advertisers said that at no point were vulnerable persons wishing to assert their rights disregarded and they argued that their website empowered them instead. They said that they provided a webpage setting out the bodies in Ireland and the UK who regulated their panel, referring to their experts panel page.
They said that the complainant had taken a narrow view that they only provided information on personal injury cases which was incorrect. They said that a review of their website would confirm that they were much broader than this and covered areas such as debt recovery, property damage, professional negligence and many other areas. They said that the fee the PIAB charged was a matter for them and legislation and that they did not charge the public any fee, therefore, they considered their service preferable to the PIAB to members of the public.
In regard to the statutory timeframe, the advertisers said that the argument put forward by the PIAB would mean that no solicitor would be allowed to advertise and said that the same argument could be made against advice provided by other bodies, therefore, the complainant’s argument would mean that organisations set up to provide advice to consumers would be prevented from advertising. They said that the complainants taking exception to a commercial entity advertising was ultra vires, and the advertisers did not consider that the complainant had a statutory right to question the advertising of a commercial entity, unless that right was afforded to a government entity by legislation. They did not consider that the complainant had a legal right to raise such an argument.
The advertisers said that they provided an Irish accommodation address on their website on the footer of every page at which they were happy to accept correspondence.
The advertisers said that they diligently checked their experts to ensure their competence and that once they were happy, they certified them. They said that they understood that there were no restrictions in Ireland in who could certify what. They said that their panel of experts were regulated by a variety of bodies and referred to their experts panel webpage which included a list of bodies that some of their experts were members of and stated that their panel members included solicitors, loss assessors, architects, engineers and environmental contractors.
Information sourced by the Executive as to what is claims harvesting:
Newspaper article on claims harvesting included the following statement:- https://www.irishexaminer.com/news/arid-30932528.html:
“Claims-harvesting sites are targeted at people who believe they may have a compensation claim from an accident or incident and who are looking online for information.
Some are run by solicitor firms to draw in business and this is permissible, so long as they contain only factual information, do not offer inducements, and do not make outlandish claims as to outcomes.
Others are run by non-solicitors and try to entice people with offers of free advice, consultations, or assessments, and with ‘no win, no fee’ deals.”
The Complaints Committee considered the detail of the complaints and the advertisers’ response.
In relation to Issue 1, the Committee considered that whether or not the website was a claims harvesting website was not a matter for consideration under the ASAI Code as it related to the advertisers’ business model. In the circumstances the Committee did not adjudicate on this complaint.
Issue 2: Complaints Upheld
The Committee noted that the complainants all considered that the website was creating the impression that it was a State body, while the PIAB considered that it had been modelled on their own website. They also noted the response and willingness to remove the word ‘Authority’ if it would resolve the complaints.
The Committee reviewed the website advertising content and observed that the layout and information provided was similar to that of the PIAB’s site. While the website was in a different colour to that of PIAB’s site and had stated that it was “independent” at the top, the Committee took account of the use of the word ‘Authority’ in the company name together with the use of the colour green, recognised as a national and official colour. They also noted the prominence given to the Irish translation of the name, as required by all State bodies, which they considered reflected the style and standing of State bodies. Taking account of the website as a whole and in context, while the Committee did not consider that the advertising was sufficiently similar to be confused with the PIAB website, they considered that it and the use of the word ‘Authority’ did create an overall impression which could be confused with it being for a State body. In the circumstances that Committee considered that the advertising had the potential to mislead and was in breach of sections 4.1, 4.4, 4.9 and 4.10 of the Code.
Issue 3: Complaints Upheld
The Committee noted the complainant of misleadingness on the basis that the published claims data related to a period prior to trading (in Ireland). They also noted that trading operated in many countries and the data concerned was aggregated across multiple jurisdictions However, the marketing communications complained of were published on a .ie domain name, which the Committee considered gave the impression that the data related to Ireland while trading there. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, the Committee considered that the advertising at Issue 3 was in breach of Sections 4.1, 4.4,
4.9 and 4.10 of the Code
Issue 4: Complaints Not Upheld
The Committee noted the complainants concerns the in regard to the statutory timeframe for submitting claims and the advertisers’ comments in regard to the fact that consumers could seek advice directly from solicitors or other bodies providing advice and that there was no onus on a consumer using the service provided by the complainants. The Committee also noted that the advertisers’ website had included a list of bodies that some of their experts were members of and stated that their panel members included solicitors, loss assessors, architects, engineers and environmental contractors. The Committee, while noting the concerns, did not consider that the website was sufficiently similar to be confused with the PIAB website nor did they consider that, by providing information to consumers on making a claim, they were disadvantaging consumers. In the circumstances, the Committee did not consider that the advertising was in breach of the Code on the grounds raised at Issue 4.
The Committee noted the complainants concerns over the website being prepared with an insufficient sense of responsibility to vulnerable individuals wishing to assert their legal rights to redress; a lack of information on panel providers; service users’ potential for
mistakenly believing they were engaging with PIAB in relation to legal fees being incurred and being potentially prejudiced regarding the statute of limitations.
The Committee considered the matter taking account of having not considered that the advertising was sufficiently similar to be confused with the PIAB website. On that basis, they did not consider that there was a responsibility for the marketing communications to extend to provide information on the areas covered by the complaints. Accordingly, they did not consider that the advertising was in breach of the Code on the grounds raised at Issue 4.
Issue 5: Complaints Not Upheld
The Committee noted the concerns raised by the complainant. However, they noted that the website had included the advertisers’ name, postal address, phone numbers and an email address. In the circumstances they did not consider that the advertising was in breach of the Code on the grounds raised in Issue 5.
Issue 6: Complaints Upheld
The Committee noted the advertisers’ response in regard to self-certifying their own experts, and that information had been provided on their website listing organisations that their experts were members. However, no comment or evidence had been provided for the marketing claims referred to by the complainant.
The Committee noted the requirement of the Code to provide documentary evidence to substantiate all claims and that such evidence should be sent without delay if requested (4.10). In the absence of such evidence, the Committee considered that the advertising at Issue 6 was in breach of Sections 3.4, 4.1, 4.4, 4.9, 4.10 and 4.35 of the Code.
The advertising, including the use of the word ‘authority’ in the company name, should not reappear in its current form.