Three of the UK’s most prominent care home review sites have agreed to improve their practices following the intervention of the government’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).
Carehome.co.uk, Care Opinion and Most Recommended Care have all said they will address concerns that were raised after the CMA opened a case over online reviews and endorsements.
Each of them has committed to making bespoke improvements in response to specific concerns that were relevant to them in various areas.
This includes ensuring that all genuine, relevant and lawful reviews are published, ensuring that reviews received are checked properly as to whether they are genuine and ensuring that important information is brought to the attention of users. More than half of UK adults (54%) are reported to use online reviews before making a decision about what to buy or see.
As part of its work in the care homes sector, the CMA has engaged with Care Quality Commission (CQC), NHS Choices and the Scottish Government over the matter.
In order to mitigate their legal risk, Carehome.co.uk and Care Opinion had previously given care homes the option to restrict the publication of reviews, instead publishing a prominent message indicating that a review had been withheld. They have now agreed not to offer care homes an automatic right to restrict.
Carehome.co.uk will refine its policy and process for handling providers’ claims of defamation (for example to take further legal advice in the statutory defences that are available).
Care Opinion has agreed to publish reviews if providers do not respond to its communications about negative reviews that have been submitted – in some cases, its default had previously been not to publish.
It is crucial that review websites check and present reviews in a way that ensures consumers can trust them”
Most Recommended Care, meanwhile, will build on its existing verification processes to strengthen its checks. It will also improve the information that is given to users about how reviews are collected, checked and published, building on their existing practices.
Additionally, most Recommended Care will ensure that its commercial relationships with businesses are prominently disclosed.
The case involving the three care home review sites also encompassed Checkatrade and Trustatrader, websites for finding tradespeople, and is part of a wider package of work being carried out by the CMA to improve practices in the online reviews and endorsements sector.
Nisha Arora, CMA senior director, consumer, said: “Millions of people look at online reviews and endorsements before making buying decisions, and so it is crucial that review websites check and present reviews in a way that ensures consumers can trust them.
“Review sites play a critical role in giving consumers this valuable information and ensuring that consumers can trust the reviews they see. We welcome the constructive engagement we have had with the 5 review sites which will mean that people using them will have a more complete picture when reading reviews. These changes should help people to make the right choices when hiring a tradesperson or making a vital decision on the care of a loved one.”
The CMA also confirmed that it has asked Care Quality Commission (CQC), NHS Choices and the Scottish Government to ensure that any partnership agreements they have with review sites require compliance with consumer law.
CQC uses reviews from review sites, alongside other information from partners and the public, to inform its decisions on the scheduling and planning of inspections of care homes.
NHS Choices pools reviews with partners, so the consumer reviews it collects are shown on its partners’ sites, and vice-versa.
The Scottish Government is providing funding to support a pilot scheme run by a review site that enables users to feed back their experiences in using adult social care services in Scotland.
The CMA has now issued further advice and information to review sites across all sectors to remind them about their legal obligations in the wake of the developments.
In addition, it has opened investigations into a number of companies involved in reviews and endorsements, and expects to make further announcements about these in the coming weeks. It has not indicated which sectors these companies are from.
However, the CMA did confirm that it has not opened a formal investigation into the three care home sites on whether their practices could breach consumer law.