I’ve been fooled into paying £40 to change my driving licence address with the DVLA, when I could have done it for free on gov.uk.
The companies offering the “service” take out Google Ads above the official gov.uk web link. I can’t believe it is legal to charge people for a public service that is free. It feels like I’ve been conned.
When “copycat” sites became a nuisance in 2013-14 luring consumers into paying over the odds for government services such as passports, driving licences and the London congestion charge – Guardian Money waged a successful campaign to make Google remove them as the top search result.
Six years on, cracks are appearing. Put “Change driving licence address UK” into Google, and the top two results were from updatelicenceuk.com and uklicenceapplication.com – both above the official gov.uk/change-address-driving-licence.
The first, updateuklicenceuk.com (which also operates as applydrivinglicencesuk.com) goes to a page headed DVLA Change of Address, with a big “apply now” button. It’s understandable why so many people fall into the trap, paying the unnecessary £40 bill. Only in the tiniest type does it say that there is a free alternative.
The company is run by Dolphin Help, registered in November 2019 to an address in Regent Street in central London (a mail-forwarding address only) with its director a Mrs Claire Fawcett.
We have managed to get you your £40 back. But other questions to Dolphin Help went unanswered.
It is illegal to mimic a government website, but firms get around this by using disclaimers saying they are not affiliated to official departments. In the case of updateuklicenceuk.com, the disclaimer is, we would say, clearly not sufficiently visible.
Google makes money every time the likes of these sites appear as a top search result. After we showed it updateuklicenceuk.com and applydirvinglicencesuk.com site, it said: “The ads flagged by the Guardian have been terminated in line with our policies,” adding it has introduced a stricter policy on free government services to ensure they are the ones listed first on searches.
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