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Politics Busted by the advertising regulators

SOLOMON HUGHES reveals how a big Tory donor’s kitchen company keeps falling foul of the ads watchdog

ONE of the Tories’ new big money donors keeps breaking advertising regulations.

The latest Electoral Commission figures, released at the end of last year, show that in September 2017 a firm called Hotham Services gave the Tories £25,000. Hotham Services is owned and controlled by Yorkshire multimillionaire Malcolm Healey.

Healey also gave the Tories £100,000 in April 2017 to help Theresa May fight the election. 

He gave that money in his own name. But Healey is reportedly not keen on being in the press, so he may have switched to giving through a company because his previous donations made in his own name attracted some press coverage.

71-year-old Healey built up the Hygena kitchen brand in the 1970s and ’80s. He sold it in 1987 for £200 million. Healey now owns and runs another company, West Retail Group, which has an impressive £500m annual turnover.

West Retail Group has two arms. One, Wren Kitchens, sells fitted kitchens. The other, Ebuyer, is an online computer sales company.

Unlike some big Tory donors, Healey is a major employer. His firms give a lot of people jobs. He isn’t just some financier whizzing money offshore.

But both his companies seem to have problems when it comes to “misleading” advertising.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ruled against Wren Kitchens six times since 2013. 

The watchdog says Wren exaggerated how much bigger and how much better value it was compared to other kitchen shops. 

In 2016 Wren was fined £12,000 by Trading Standards for charging higher than advertised prices in their shops.

Wren has also been criticised for poor standards. The BBC Watchdog programme investigated Wren for poor standards in 2015, with customers left for a long time with half-finished kitchens. 

It appeared again in BBC’s Rip Off Britain in October 2017, where Angela Rippon and co reported its delays and mistakes.

The ASA also had trouble with his other business, Ebuyer, which sells computers and computer stuff through its website.

In 2014 The Register, a technology news website, reported Ebuyer’s long running problems with the ASA under the cheeky headline: “Toothless watchdog growls, firm says ‘LA LA LA, WE’RE NOT LISTENING’.”

The ASA told Ebuyer that its advertisement offering “free next-day delivery on all of your orders this month” was misleading because it did not actually apply to all orders. 

Lots of orders, including any that cost less than £49.99, were excluded, as were other orders depending on location and weight. 

The ASA was especially bothered that Ebuyer didn’t reply to its complaint. It said: “The ASA was concerned by Ebuyer’s lack of response and apparent disregard for the [Advertising] Code,”
In September 2012 the ASA told Ebuyer off no less than twice for misleading customers over hard drive promos, and over “free delivery” claims. 

In July that year it had also been scolded for “misleading” tablet promotions. Ebuyer was also told off by the ASA in 2011 for a wifi internet radio promo spot that the regulator said “misled” consumers. 

I’ve double-checked and this long history of Ebuyer ignoring advertising regulations is accurate.

So there is a bit of a pattern here. Both the companies run by one of the Tories’ big money backers have broken a lot of advertising regulation.

In their manifesto, May’s Tories promised to “strengthen the hand of regulators” and “strengthen the powers of consumer enforcement bodies” and “put the interest of vulnerable consumers first.” 

But with the owner of rule-breaking businesses funding May, won’t her promises of “better regulation” turn into just more deregulation?

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