Smith Sutcliffe Solicitors

Are You Paying For Free Online Government Services?

The Office of Fair Trading has opened investigations into a number of websites that charge people for government services that are available directly from government either at no cost or for a lower fee.

Paul Halstead, our Partner with responsibilty for IT in the firm says: " The investigation will look into websites that charge consumers to apply for services that are free such as European Health Insurance Cards (EHICs) as well as websites that impose higher charges for services that do carry a cost such as booking a driving theory test."

The OFT will consider, amongst other things, whether the websites are deceptively presented as official government services - an unfair commercial practice. This would raise particular concern if consumers are thus misled into paying fees for services that are available free of charge from the official government website, or paying significantly more than what they would have to pay when using the official website.

Paul comments: "With summer holidays approaching, many people will be making applications for EHICs in particular, so we encourage travellers to take time to check that they are using an official government website.  The form is easy to complete - you do not need to pay a third party to "check" your application"

"Just make sure that when you "google" that you go to one of the official government sites - some of the third party sites can appear above the official sites on the search page".

Paul also reminds holidaymakers that the EHIC cards have a validity of 5 years - so check that yours is still in date. if applied for the cards in 2005 when they were first issued, you might need to renew.

7th August 2011, 23:52
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