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Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Online government services – don’t get conned

  • Published: Wednesday, 2 November 2011

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) is investigating websites that charge people for government services that are available directly from government, either at no cost or for a lower fee. Visit Directgov to find the official sites.

Copycat sites

A number of private services have been set up online, which often sound and look like the official service. They may pay to appear at the top of internet search results and listings on websites to grab people’s attention.

But these websites will often charge you extra ‘administration fees’. And some of them will try to get you to ring premium rate phone lines for their advice and services. In most cases, at the end of the day, you will receive exactly the same service but will have paid more.

OFT investigation

The investigation is looking into websites that charge consumers to apply for services that are free, such as European Health Insurance Cards (EHICs). It will also examine websites that impose higher charges for services that do carry a cost, such as booking a driving theory test.

Cavendish Elithorn, a Director at the OFT said: “It is important that companies are clear about the service they are offering, and do not trick people into paying for something that they can get for free or much cheaper on government websites. We will be considering whether any of the sites under investigation are misleading consumers.”

Finding online services you can trust

As the official UK government website for citizens, Directgov doesn’t charge extra fees for online services. If the service isn’t free you can be sure you will never pay more than the service actually costs.

And as well as being on the web, people can access Directgov information and services on any internet enabled mobile phone,

Some of the most frequently-used services are as follows. But as general rule, if linked out to from Directgov, you can trust that they are genuine:

European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)

Free medical services when you visit EU countries

Driving tests

Book a practical or theory driving or riding test online

TV licences

You can buy a TV licence for the first time or renew an existing one on the TV licensing website.

Passport applications

Look online for first passports, renewals and lost passports

Getting copies of birth, death, marriage certificates

Student finance

New and returning full-time students can apply online for student finance

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