Beware copycat websites when submitting your tax return

Online companies set up to mimic Government websites continue to trick consumers into paying hefty fees for everything from renewing a passport or driving licence to filing a tax return.

This is despite promises from regulators, Government departments and leading internet search engines to crack down on these websites that charge fees of up to £1,000 for services that are often free on official Government websites.

Mike Walker lost £400 after googling “hmrc” to file his tax return. He was directed to, and realised too late that it was not the official government site. “It looked very similar, but it was only once I’d gone through the process of filing my return and made a payment of £400 that I realised it wasn’t the same,” he says. Walker adds: “I thought the official site had changed from previous years to make it cleaner and simpler to use.” “I’ve filed returns about five times before. What hope is there for people doing it for the first time with sites like this at the top of the search?”

Around four million people will file their self-assessment tax returns online ahead of the 31 January deadline. Although websites charging a hefty fee for the service are not illegal, filing your return is free if you do it through the official HMRC site.

Who4’s online tax return service – – charges up to £1,000. The website isn’t breaking the law as it follows Google’s rules that such sites must make it clear they are not the official site and that the service is free elsewhere. The homepage says: “We are not connected to or affiliated with HMRC, DWP or any other official government body. We offer a bespoke, value for money, tax return assistance service for which we levy a charge.”

A spokesman for HMRC says it does not sanction or in any way approve sites that charge for online tax return submissions and it “will take firm action against any websites that suggest otherwise”. It adds that some mislead taxpayers through use of similar colours to the official site, or an official logo. “It’s important to bear in mind that we provide comprehensive help and guidance through our website and contact centres entirely free of charge,” says a spokesman.

Websites such as that appear in the yellow box following a google search are paying to push their services to the top of results. A quick search for “tax return filing” returned three fee-charging websites before the official site.

This online confusion is not confined to self-assessment tax returns. In recent years there has been a huge growth in the number of copycat websites designed to trap consumers into paying fees, in the belief they are dealing with the government sites. The list includes passports, birth and death certificates, congestion charge payments, driving licences, and national insurance numbers.

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