Free for some but £9.95 for others
Many of you have been contacting Money Box to express concern and confusion at the number of unofficial websites charging for goods and services that can be got for free or at a vastly reduced cost - if you go to the official site.
European Health Insurance Cards are free through the NHS, but a number of Money Box listeners have paid £9.95 after visiting a similarly addressed website to the official one.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office charge just under £30 to legalise documents but a site, which claimed to be "the official apostille service" was charging more than double. In some cases they were simply delivering the documents on to the FCO.
Have you paid for something that you later found could be obtained for free?
Have you paid more for a service than you should have?
What did you pay for?
Do internet searches leave you struggling to find official sites?
Are you concerned at the lack of regulation?
Tell us your experiences.
The lesson surely is that the sponsored links are to be avoided if at all possible. I never use them and as far as possible keep trusted websites in my favourites. It is always worth the effort to find the source of the information rather than use some third party to do this for you. However, I was very annoyed to find that when you want to get your club members CRB checked you have to use an agent who charges a fee. .
I was contacted by email by a company that told me about the need for me to subscribe to the Information Commissioner's Office because, as a Clinical Psychologist I hold sensitive client data. This company for a fee of about £135 offered to take care of this. I subsequently contacted the ICO and discovered that indeed I do need to subscribe and can do via their website for a mere £35. I am aware of other colleagues in my profession who have been similarly targeted in this "scam".
I found your interview about internet sites and the fees they charge exceedingly blinkered. There are many people, and I am one of them, who are happy to pay certain privateers for information on public information where that information is tedious or onerous to access. Obtaining my visa to live in this country in 1994 is a case in point. The pathway (ancestry visa) was so clear cut and easy to follow once a PAID source helped me to find the information in the first place.
The government might promote the country as being a Social country (welfare, health etc) but British society - in my experience - at large is not at all at ease with providing anything for free.
If government websites want to have higher rankings in search engine results, they have to make sure that they are linked to more and have greater relevance than other websites, not just sit their complaining that other websites outrank them. Talk to a good Search Engine Optimisation consultant.
The Government started this practice by enabling the Post Office to fast track passport applications for a fee with similar T&Cs to the private sector child benefit website: Your data, your problem
Unless I'm mistaken the Government Agency (IPS) provided the checking service free. Where was the need?
Micheal Fallon misses the point by suggesting these services duplicate government provided services, (and paid for by tax).
If it were that obvious there would be no accountants providing basic services to SMEs to explain HMRC to them. (Despite expensive attempts by HMRC to compete with this provision)
Government information services are regularly described as being impenetrable by programmes such as, er, Money Box.
Perhaps the solution is to reduce the effort trying and (to quote David Willets on You and Yours yesterday) pay other providers by success and allow choice by the customer and business failure.
As I finish typing this comment Moneybox is inviting comments on the HMRC perhaps the programme might consider some joined up thinking?
"We look at the websites that sell you Government forms and information that you can get free or much cheaper direct."
I am surprised you only concentrated on the costs for the forms. What concerns me about such sites is their ability to data harvest and get personal details from people which could be used in fraud at a later date.
I recently applied for a replacement health insurance card after losing mine. I was in a rush and didn't scrutinise the "EHIC" website.
I have rung them to try to complain, but their number actually puts you through to the NHS. I have emailed them asking for my money back, but don't hold out any hope.
I can't believe how the man from Trading Standards just says that he'd like to see "more clarity" on websites that seem to be set up purely to make money by offering to help people access otherwise FREE government services.
I would hope Trading Standards to say "you'd be best to avoid these websites, they are acting as parasites... they may not actually be breaking any laws, but that's because the lawmakers didn't realise that these people would do this". I mean, how unethical can you get?!
This is a despicable way for a company to earn money. Isn't it?
We just renewed our EHIC cards and paid £9.95 for the pleasure. Just wish google offered the .GOV site option first. Complete rip off, people making money for doing next to nothing!
I've just seen Paul on Breakfast T.V commenting about search engines that bring up sights that charge you a price to check your details for otherwise free services.
As a Driving Instructor I constantly warn people about this when booking their practical or theory test but many people get caught out and end up paying a highly inflated price.
I feel obliged to stand up for the 'Apostille' website service mentioned on your show (.org.uk). I travelled from Cornwall to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office by train after taking 2 days holiday from my job to legalise my degree certificate.
On arrival I was informed by a very unhelpful member of staff that my document was not acceptable as an original and must be a solicitor signed copy.
After finding a solicitor in a very unfamiliar city and returning to the FCO I was told that I was too late and had to train back to Cornwall with no Apostille (train ticket return £271, 6 hrs per journey plus my days off!).
I emailed a copy of my document to apostille.org.uk and paid £88.95 all inc. for a 4 day turnaround. I only wish I had found them before my nightmare of dealing with the government directly.
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