Northumberland County Council’s Public Protection service is warning consumers to be wary of official looking websites that charge for checking services such as passport or driving licence applications.
Trading Standards officers say that these services are either free, or provided for a fraction of the cost, through official sources.
Complaints have been received from consumers who have made applications for passports, driving licences and, in one case, a death certificate, where they have paid for a checking service thinking that the website they were using was that of the official government department.
Trading Standards have found that although many of the websites look genuine, they are merely a checking facility before applications go to the appropriate government body. This adds unnecessary costs and delays into the process.
Vickie Barrington, head of Public Protection, said: “These service providers can add around £40 to a driving licence application, £90 to a passport application and £20 to a request for a death certificate.
“All the sites we have looked at do say that they are not the official government site, but on some of them this information is hidden in the small print in the terms and conditions. You have to make sure you look for it and understand what it means.
“We would urge consumers to always check the terms and conditions on any website they use. if you have any doubts, don’t use it.”
Councillor Dave ledger, policy board member for Public Protection said: “It’s the time of year when people are booking summer holidays and checking that their passports will still be valid when they need them. They are going online for advice and guidance and the search engines are throwing up these websites.
“Although these websites aren’t illegal, they don’t give consumers anything of value. We cannot stress enough that consumers need to protect themselves and make sure they know who they are contracting with.”
To find out more about the passport applications please go to the Gov.uk website, https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/hm-passport-office
To find out more about the driving licence applications please use the Gov.uk website, https://www.gov.uk/browse/driving/driving-licences
To find out more about the birth, death or marriage certificate licence applications please use the Gov.uk website https://www.gov.uk/order-copy-birth-death-marriage-certificate
Any residents who wish to report any concerns about these or other issues should report them to the Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 08454 040506 or they can report any potential fraud to ‘Action Fraud’ who can be contacted at www.actionfraud.org.uk/report_fraud , or by calling 0300 123 2040.