Beware of private companies impersonating government websites

According to a note on the Parliament website, MPs have received letters from constituents complaining about private companies that set up websites designed to look like official government sites and then charge people for government services that are available directly from the government – at no cost or for a much lower fee.

In many cases, citizens say they believed they were on an official site until they were charged a processing fee.

Services that have this problem include applying for a European Health Card (EHIC), booking a driving theory test or renewing a passport. Advertisements for these businesses often feature prominently in search results.

Although it is not illegal to provide reviewing and forwarding services, the government wants such businesses to make it clear that they are not affiliated to the government and that consumers will be paying for a service which they could obtain from government for free or at a lower cost. However, unfair and misleading practices are prohibited by the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (CPRs). The Regulations are enforceable through the civil and criminal court.

The note on the Parliament website provides an overview of the legal position. It also considers the involvement of the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and the Government Digital Service (GDS) in monitoring the operation of third-party websites offering services associated with official government services.

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