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Free gifts, competitions and prize draws – unfair commercial practices

There are 31 named practices that are banned under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (2008). The banned practices fall into five main groups:

  • making false claims about a trader's credentials
  • pricing and information about products and services
  • promotions, marketing and advertising
  • free gifts, competitions and prize draws
  • sales and after-sales service.

If a trader has done something which is banned by these regulations, you can report them to Trading Standards, who may decide to take action against the trader. From 1 October 2014, if the trader has misled you or behaved in an aggressive way you may also be able to take action to get your money back or get compensation.

This page tells you about which commercial practices involving free gifts, competitions and prize draws are specifically banned.

Free gifts, competitions and prize draws

There are strict rules about how to run competitions and prize draws so that they are fair and legal. However, dishonest traders may use free gifts, competitions and prize draws as a way of making money for themselves or getting you to buy their products.

For example, you pay to enter the competition but no-one wins the prize. Or the trader tries to sell you products that will increase your chances of winning other games of chance, such as the lottery.

If you have been led to believe that you have or will win a prize, you can’t be made to pay costs to claim the prize or get information about it. This means that however you can claim the prize, you shouldn’t have to pay anything, for example calling a premium rate number or texting.

Which practices are banned?

Some practices are banned outright.

Increasing the chance of winning

Making false claims that products will be able to help you win in games of chance. For example, a trader who advertises a computer program with the claim that 'This will help you win money on the National Lottery', when it obviously can't, is making a false claim. Games of chance include:

  • lotteries
  • prize draws
  • bingo games.

Making false claims about prizes

Offering a competition or prize promotion but then failing to give out any of the prizes described or offer other prizes of a similar value.

For example, a trader operates a scratch-card promotion with a top prize of £10,000, but doesn't print any cards that will win the top prize or prints them but doesn't make them available. This means that no-one can win the top prize.

Prize scams

This is where the trader gives the false impression that you've already won or will win a prize when in fact:

  • there is no prize, or
  • you have to pay money in order to claim your prize.

Charging for free gifts

It's against the law to advertise a product as 'free', 'gratis' or 'without charge' when in fact you have to pay for it on top of the goods you're buying. This doesn't include charges for postage, collection or delivery.

For example, a mail order catalogue trader says that you will get a free gift when you order a copy of the catalogue. But really you will only get your free gift when you place your first order.

Next steps

If you were misled or harassed by the trader

Reporting a problem to Trading Standards

If you need more help

Other useful information

Competition and Markets Authority

Victoria House
37 Southampton Row

Tel: 020 7271 0021