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Searching on the internet in order to apply for a European Health Card (EHIC), booking a driving theory test or renewing a passport, brings 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.

Some Members of Parliament have received letters from constituents complaining about private companies that set up websites deliberately designed to look like official Government sites and then charge people for services that are available directly from the Government either at no cost or for a much lower fee. In many cases, constituents, having searched on the internet, believed they were on an official site until they were charged a processing fee.

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 or at a lower cost. Unfair and misleading practices are prohibited by the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (CPRs). The Regulations are enforceable through the civil and criminal court.

This Commons briefing paper provides an overview of the legal position. It also considers the involvement of  Trading Standards, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and the Government Digital Service (GDS) in monitoring the operation of third-party websites offering official Government services. Finally, this note looks at the occasions when the issue of copycat websites has been raised in Parliament during debates or as Parliamentary Questions. 


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