Mansfield and Ashfield residents are being warned about independent companies offering an online application form checking service, following a rise in local complaints about misleading websites.
During January, the County Council’s Trading Standards team received 24 complaints from residents who believed they were applying for a new passport, driving licence or paying for their tax return on an official website - when in fact it was an independent company offering a form checking service.
Residents have complained that the websites are misleading, as they are not clear that the service on offer only involves checking the form has been filled out correctly.
It is possible that some of the websites are bogus and do not offer any service.
Residents are being reminded to use Government websites ending in gov.uk for driving licences, passport applications and tax return matters.
Coun Glynn Gilfoyle, Chair of the County Council’s Community Safety Committee, said: “Whilst these companies are not breaking any law by offering a form checking service, we are encouraging residents to read the small print to make sure they are clear what their fee involves.
“Most state on their websites that they are only a check and submit service but their website can often look like an official government application site.
“It is also worth checking official websites to find out the actual cost of renewing a passport or driving licence which should give you a good idea whether the offer is too good to be true.”
Rebecca Hardiman from West Bridgford works full-time but has a second, self-employed job, selling utilities on behalf of a utility company.
When it came to submitting her annual tax return, Rebecca used a website for tax returns which was the first result returned from a google search and was charged £400.
Rebecca recalled, “I thought the charge seemed excessive but I believed I was submitting information to the HMRC via their website. It was only when I submitted the information and paid that I saw a message at the bottom of the page stating the site was not affiliated to HMRC - the message was in dark writing on a dark background.
“I’ve submitted tax returns online before without any problem. The website is still there but there is now a message saying that they have suspended the service. Sadly, that doesn’t mean I’m likely to get my money back.”
Norman Cook from Retford paid £99 online for what he thought was a fast track passport application.
He was sent a form with some of his details printed on it and confirmation of an appointment at the passport office in Peterborough.
When he attended the appointment he was told he owed £128 for the fast track passport.
Norman said: “I think these kind of websites should be more upfront with what they are offering.
“I’ve been told because I ticked the website’s terms and conditions it’s unlikely that I will get my money back. I’ve just put it down to bad luck and one to learn from.
“If you are making a payment for passport make sure it s a Government website.”
People with a consumer issue can call the Citizen’s Advice consumer service on 08454 04 05 06 for help and information.