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Government urged to take action on websites charging for access to free government services

Antony Savvas | Jan. 30, 2014
The government is being urged by the opposition to clamp down on websites that charge visitors for access to freely available online government services.

The government is being urged by the opposition to clamp down on websites that charge visitors for access to freely available online government services.

In a parliamentary question Labour MP Stephen Doughty asked Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude what estimate he has made of the number of websites charging for access to government online services in each of the last three years.

He also asked whether he "will take steps" to enable the Competition and Markets Authority to be able to take enforcement action on websites found to be charging for access to online government services, irrespective of whether a disclaimer statement is deployed.

He also asked how many complaints had been received by the Cabinet Office about such sites since October 2013, and what ministerial meetings had taken place about the issue since the same date.

In addition, Doughty asked for a progress report on a review of the sites in question being conducted by the Government Digital Service.

In response, cabinet office secretary Nick Hurd said: "I have regular meetings with my ministerial colleagues but it has been the practice of successive administrations that details of internal discussions are not normally disclosed."

Hurd added: "Officials in the Government Digital Service (GDS) are leading a cross-government exercise to gather information about the operation of third-party websites offering services associated with official government services.

"This research will guide our work to address the issue and the government's engagement with the internet search engine providers that carry advertisements for the services of these unofficial providers."

Where the government has become aware of websites that "make misleading claims in their advertising", said Hurd, it has brought these complaints to the attention of the Advertising Standards Authority.

He said the government "has and continues to take direct action to prevent the misuse of government logos" or "any suggestion of affiliation with government by these websites".

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is taking over many of the functions and responsibilities of the Competition Commission and the Office of Fair Trading.

 

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