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Passport to hell; ‘copycat’ website sues customers

Kit Klarenberg
Written By:
Kit Klarenberg

The operator of a website that purports to assist consumers with passport applications has been accused of using intimidation and vexatious litigation to extort money from customers.

Britishpassportservices.co.uk is an unofficial service, unaffiliated with the Passport Office. While the owner claims its unofficial status is made unambiguously clear on the site itself, a number of customers have only realised after requesting a consultation and over 150 have been sued successfully for cancelling payments.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s You and Yours, retired police officer Mark Dilliway told how he paid Britishpassportservices.co.uk £117 to book an appointment which could’ve been arranged free of charge by ringing the Passport Office.

It was only when Mark rang the Passport Office to confirm his meeting that he was informed he’d made his booking through a third party. “That was when I felt sick. I just could not believe I’d fallen for it,” he said.

Bristol resident Martin Wyatt also didn’t realise until making his booking: While he managed to cancel the payment, he was later hounded by the website, and threatened with legal action.

“They left threatening messages, and by that time the cost inflated to about £177…they detailed various calls and various text messages, charging me £5 or £10 for each contact,” he said.

UK Services and Support Ltd has successfully sued around 150 people in its year and a half of operation – although, the firm’s victories owe nothing to the validity of its claims, but to default judgements.

Default judgments are judgments in favour of a plaintiff, when a defendant fails to appear before a court of law. Many defendants have simply ignored correspondence requesting them to appear in court, meaning UK Services and Support Ltd, the parent company of Britishpassportservices.co.uk, automatically wins.

Richard Howard, director of UK Services and Support Ltd, denies his stable of websites con consumers into believing they are official resources, and claims he offers a valuable service. He points out that each site states clearly that it has no affiliation with the UK government, and that before customers confirm their order, they are reminded that “our fees can be avoided by visiting the Post or Passport Offices, as we are an unaccredited company without any government license [sic]”.

Other websites run by Howard include consumer-rights.org.uk and websitestandardsagency.eu.
Last year, he also established a political party called ‘Privatise for Prosperity’, which stands on an exclusive platform of offering voters the freedom to use third-party providers to secure official documentation.

“Copycat websites charging fees for free official services are an internet plague,” Sharon Coleman, co-founder of legal advice forum LegalBeagles said. “What differentiates British Passport Services is the way it uses aggressive, unfounded demands for payment, county court claims and threats of damage to the reputations of customers.”

“We will do all we can to continue campaigning against them,” she continued. “It should be stopped in its tracks.”

In September last year, the Advertising Standards Authority ruled that another of Mr Howard’s passport sites, www.ukpassportoffices.co.uk, had misled consumers. Five years ago his company, Phonenumbers4u Ltd, was fined by the premium rate regulator Phonepayplus.

Shutting down such sites can prove problematic, even when there is political will to do so. Your Money recently reported on the inability of the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills to close down PLT Anti-Marketing, a firm that charges a monthly subscription fee for enrolling customers in services provided free by the government.