The Independent Complaints Panel (ICP) is the authority which considers complaints about products. It doesn’t instigate complaints: the Panel makes independent decisions about complaints from members of the public, industry members or interest groups. It reviews them based on the sixth edition of the Code of Practice on the Naming, Packaging and Promotion of Alcoholic Drinks – updated in 2019 after an extensive consultation with the industry, public health and government – and the Code of Practice on Alcohol Sponsorship. It has deliberated on over 80 products in the last five years, from all over the industry.

I wanted to take this chance to shine a light on just how the ICP works.

Who sits on the Panel?

The ICP is intentionally independent of the Portman Group. It is chaired by Jenny Watson CBE, formerly the Chair of the Electoral Commission and Chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission. The Panel is drawn from a range of civic society; members have worked in education, youth work, charity, criminal justice, health, marketing, hospitality and the alcohol industry. It is this mix of views and experiences which provides them with the expertise to jointly provide a considered view on complaints.  You can read their full biographies here.

What happens in a meeting?

The Panel is sent details of cases at least a week in advance; this will include the complaint, the complainant’s response, pictures of the product and previous cases.

The Panel will then meet. The Panel is fiercely independent and the Portman Groups only involvement is to provide secretariat to the Panel, but we have no role in decision making. The cases will be discussed in turn, with no time limit. In almost every case the Panel will have the physical product to consider and examine. The Chair will then invite the Panel to raise any additional Code Rules, so they can use their extensive knowledge and judgement to go beyond the original complaint. The Panel will deliberate, with each member being invited to speak. They consider previous cases, consult external data and their own fields of expertise.

Each producer is allowed to submit a written response to the initial complaint. This is given to the Panel in full and unedited. We believe it is important for the producer to have the option to respond with whatever arguments they wish. If the Panel decides that the product breached the Code, then the producer is invited to make a second written response. Producers are permitted to present to Panel, with the prior agreement of the Chair of the Panel. This is strictly 10 minutes with an additional 10 minutes for the Panel to ask questions.

Looking beyond the ICP’s direct expertise

The Panel hears from experts, undergoes training and commissions surveys to inform their perspective. Previously the anti-bullying children’s charity Kidscape spoke with the Panel to discuss the cues on the packaging which would have particular appeal to children and the Society of Independent Brewers presented to the ICP on craft producers’ approach to packaging. There are also plans for numerous presentations and training opportunities for the ICP in the coming year.

    Image result for kidscape    Image result for siba

With the change in the code in 2019, they recommissioned  YouGov to evaluate consumers’ opinions on different containers. The survey report is available here.

It is in the interests of the whole sector to have a robust regulator that independently reviews products. We absolutely understand how much passion producers have for their products, and what a negative effect an upheld decision can have on their company. This is why we want to give every opportunity for producers to argue their case, explain the nuances of their packaging and defend their product. Final decisions are only made with the greatest of care after deliberating the product and the response. If you have any questions about the complaints process or the ICP then please get in touch.