Office of Fair Trading
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OFT investigates deceptive online selling of government services

The OFT 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.

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.

Once the OFT has completed its investigations it will consider what further action, if any, is appropriate. At this stage, the OFT cannot identify the companies that are subject to this investigation and no assumption should be made that any companies being investigated have broken the law.

Cavendish Elithorn, Senior Director of the OFT's Goods and Consumer Group, 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.

'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.'

Applications for EHICs can be made free of charge from the NHS website. Driving theory tests can be booked on the Directgov website.

NOTES

  1. Read the opening case summary in respect of these investigations.
  2. In August 2010, the OFT took enforcement action against four online traders who deceptively sold EHICs to consumers. The new investigations have been opened following complaints from consumers and information received from other government departments including the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) and Department of Health. For information about the OFT's previous investigation into the provision of EHICs, see the press release OFT takes action over misleading European health insurance websites (10 August 2010).
  3. The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (CPRs) prohibit unfair commercial practices. The Regulations are enforceable through the civil and criminal courts. Read further information and advice for businesses.
  4. The OFT does not provide advice or resolve individual complaints for consumers. Consumers who are concerned they have been unfairly treated or want advice on their personal circumstances can contact Consumer Direct.

 

 

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