The Low Incomes Tax Reform Group (LITRG) are calling for online government services to be clearly marked in order to prevent people being coned into paying for free government services by copy-cat websites. LITRG is calling for the introduction of a kitemark to help the public ensure they are using official websites.
- here is a rise in companies offering additional or similar services for a fee, even though the official version is free or subject to a lower charge.
- The ‘unofficial’ providers may believe they are offering additional value that justifies their charges, but members of the public often complain of feeling misled into believing they were dealing with either the official government website or a site endorsed or authorised by the Government.
LITRG Chairman Anthony Thomas commented:
We welcome recent attempts by Google and other search engines, in conjunction with various government departments, to ensure that official sites are more prominent in search results. The launch of the StartatGOV.UK campaign advising people to use GOV.UK to search for government services is another positive development. Yet we remain concerned that neither presents a complete solution to the problem for the millions of people who continue to use search engines to find information.
Although some of these third party sites include statements confirming they are not part of the Government, the use of colours, look and feel of the site and other wording sometimes suggest otherwise. Often they will stop short of copying the official names and logos, making it difficult for government departments to take legal action. Indeed, some of these third party sites may genuinely be adding value to the official government services or offering additional services to those offered by government, so whether a site is misleading may not be clear-cut.
LITRG believe the key to helping people avoid problems when using online services is to ensure as far as possible that official government websites are as visible as they can be. We think that a good way to do this is to introduce a simple government kitemark that could be displayed next to the official websites in search engine results. This would at least ensure that no matter whether the service retains a separate site outside GOV.UK, what other advertising is on a page or where the site appears in the results, users would know at a glance which site is the official government one. Moreover, any unauthorised attempts to use the kitemark could be swiftly dealt with under copyright rules. ”
You may well have seen these sites when you surf the 'net. A low income self-employed friend of this site's editor was duped last January when she filed her SA Tax return with a website which was branded just like HMRC. The pages appeared to her to be HMRC's and when she made payment of her tax bill at the end, it transpired that this was not her tax bill, but a fee for the "service" of online filing. Her tax bill was extra. An unpleasant surprise.