Holiday-makers are being warned by Bath & North East Somerset Council to be wary of paying unnecessary additional fees for travel documents such as passports and health insurance cards.
As many people are planning their summer holidays, the Council is raising awareness of businesses that run unofficial application processing services for official documents such as passports, European Health Insurance Cards (EHIC) and driving licenses.
The businesses in question are not operating illegally and typically will state in their terms and conditions that they are unofficial websites. However, consumers can mistake these businesses for official Government services because their names typically appear above official websites on internet search engines.
In one instance, Stanton Drew couple Robert and Janet Palmer complained that they had filled in an application for a passport renewal using what they assumed was the official service. It was in fact a private company which had charged them £68 for a check and send service (normally free), which the couple assumed included the cost of both passports. They then received a letter from the official Identity and Passport Service (IPS) requesting the official passport fees of £72.50 each.
The check and send service is available free online at passports.ips.gov.uk or by calling the IPS Passport Advice line on 0300 222 0000.
Councillor David Dixon (Lib-Dem, Oldfield), Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods, said: “Bath & North East Somerset Council’s Trading Standards Team wants to ensure that consumers don’t unwittingly mistake these business websites for official application websites. Such businesses usually charge additional fees, making the application process more costly for consumers. In some cases they charge fees to process the applications of documents that are free to obtain through the official website.
“We want consumers to be aware that these businesses are not doing anything that a consumer could not do for themselves. In some cases these businesses have simply duplicated the official online application process.”
If you are applying for or renewing any official documents and wish to use official websites, always ensure that you are on the correct website before you begin.
You can apply for a free European Health Insurance Card on the NHS website: www.ehic.org.uk.
You can apply for a driving license or a passport on the Government website: www.gov.uk
The Citizens Advice Consumer Service provides free, confidential and impartial advice on consumer issues. Visit www.adviceguide.org.uk or call the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 04 05 06