The OFT is warning consumers who wish to access government services to check whether they are visiting the official government website or the website of a business charging for processing services.
Searching on the internet for government services can bring up websites for businesses which offer to check, review and forward applications for a fee. Advertisements for these businesses may feature prominently in search results.
People looking for online government services such as applications for a European Health Card (EHIC) or booking a driving theory test should check to make sure they understand what they are paying for before they enter their payment card details. Many government services can be accessed online and can usually be obtained directly from the government at little or no cost.
It is not unlawful to provide reviewing and forwarding services, but businesses should make it clear on their websites 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.
The Citizens Advice consumer service provides free, confidential and impartial advice on consumer issues. Visit www.adviceguide.org.uk or call the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 08454 04 05 06.
See more information about the OFT's investigation into selling of government services.
From 2 April 2013, under changes to the consumer protection regime introduced by Government, there will be a greater role for the local authority Trading Standards Services in the enforcement of consumer protection law at national level. The OFT will retain all of its current consumer enforcement powers but will tend to use them where breaches of consumer protection law point to systemic failures in a market. This means cases will more often be taken against a number of firms in a market, rather than cases against individual firms, unless changing the behaviour of one firm would set a precedent or have other market-wide implications.
The OFT will also retain the lead role for the enforcement of the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999 although the Trading Standards Services will have equal enforcement powers.
In the first instance consumers are encouraged to contact Citizens Advice regarding any problems they may have in buying goods or services.
Back to: Consumer alerts