Tackling misleading advertising represents the majority of our work, and one of the key misleading practices we’re currently dealing with is that of companies offering services including passport renewal, driving licences, tax returns and European Health Insurance Cards.

These sites are commonly known as ‘copycat’ websites because they offer services from government departments and contain features similar to that of the official site making it appear as though they are ‘official’ or ‘authorised’. Many of these companies use website tools to achieve high positions in search engines often ranking them higher than the official site, and the majority of them charge a premium for a service that is often provided much cheaper or even free by Government departments.

We’ve received a steady flow of complaints about copycat websites that have hoodwinked people into thinking they’re using an official service when they’re not. Whether it's an ad to renew your passport, have an application checked or book a driving test, a company should not imply they are affiliated with or that they’re offering an official service if that is not the case.

We can and have taken action to have problem advertising amended. We’ve been working with Government Digital Services and search engine providers, to limit the activity of websites that advertise their services in misleading ways. This remains an on-going priority.

However, it is worth noting that there is no direct action which the ASA can take to prevent these websites from operating all together – our role is to make sure their ads and the claims on their websites are not misleading. The legitimacy of this kind of business practice, while questionable to many, is a matter for Government and Trading Standards to tackle. For that reason, consumers need to be extra-vigilant about these websites by taking the following steps:

  • Look for ‘.GOV’ in the web address. All government services can be accessed at https://www.gov.uk/
  • Take time to read the information on the website carefully to check it’s the official service
  • If you’re unsure about the claims a company is making then get in touch with us here
  • Use one of the official links we’ve compiled at the end of this factsheet.

Remember, using the official service may still incur a charge.

Official sites for commonly accessed Government services:

Passports: To apply for or renew your passport (HM Passport Office): https://www.gov.uk/browse/abroad/passports

Driving Licences: To apply for or renew your driving licence (DVLA): https://www.gov.uk/browse/driving/driving-licences

Driving test: To book or cancel a driving test (Driving Standards Agency): https://www.gov.uk/browse/driving/learning-to-drive

European Health Insurance Card: to apply for or renew your EHIC http://www.nhs.uk/NHSEngland/Healthcareabroad/EHIC/Pages/about-the-ehic.aspx

Tax return: For Self-Assessment tax returns (HM Revenue & Customs): https://www.gov.uk/file-your-self-assessment-tax-return

Congestion Charge: To pay the London congestion charge (Transport for London): http://www.tfl.gov.uk/roadusers/congestioncharging/

Trademarks: Renew your trademark (Intellectual Property Office): http://www.ipo.gov.uk/types/tm/t-manage/t-changetm/t-renew.htm

Land Registry: To order title plans and title registers (Land Registry): http://www.landregistry.gov.uk/home

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