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News & views

Plain English Campaign Ltd removes false guarantee claims

The Crystal Mark first became available in 1990 and normally costs £500 plus editing fees. It is a competitor of our Clear English Standard scheme. 

The ASA announced the outcome of its discussions with PEC on 5 March as an 'informally resolved case', without giving more details (click link to website).

The ASA said: ‘We advised PEC that we would expect similar changes to be made to other references to the guarantee and that, should we receive any similar complaints in future, we may be compelled to proceed with a formal investigation into those complaints.'

Plain Language Commission first drew attention to PEC’s misleading claims in 2007 in our article ‘Paying the price for crystal balls’ (download here) after the National Audit Office hired a research company, NOP World, to examine a sample of Department for Work and Pensions leaflets. The researchers found that many of the leaflets sampled were well above the average reading ability of the intended audience. Four of the leaflets carried the Crystal Mark. The researchers declared one of them to be ‘incomprehensible’ after testing it with benefit claimants.

Our article also questioned PEC’s claim to consumer-test all crystal-marked documents before giving the logo. (It’s a claim PEC still makes obliquely in a ‘frequently answered questions’ section of its present website.) We suggested that if the DWP's booklets had all been consumer-tested as PEC boasted, they ought to have performed better in the tests. In nearly seven years, PEC has not denied or challenged our article. 

PEC’s website is full of sanctimony about the company’s high standards and principles. Indeed, PEC runs an ‘Honesty Mark’ scheme alongside the Crystal Mark. Firms issuing documents that PEC deems ‘honest’ can buy a logo to display on them. The honesty logo even includes a halo. At one UK general election, PEC demanded that the political parties contesting it should guarantee their manifestoes were honest. [cont]

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