DVLA website scams...legal thoughts..
I'm been studying law the last couple of years and have just successfully used it here, so this may be of use to people... though I should caveat anything below by saying I'm not qualified yet and these are my views/experience.
These DVLA scam websites charge for doing something you can do for free. Firstly make sure the website has .gov.uk at the end but also be very careful....I've seen a website dvla-directgov.co.uk. Now set aside for now this being very misleading (and potentially a breach of the Consumer Protection Regulations) it ends in .co.uk (i.e. a "company" in the UK, not the Government website). It wasn't this company we came up against but one very similar. Mine was www.dvla-driving-licence.com and as everything mentioned below is factual I don't mind naming and shaming.
....came about when my wife showed me an email she'd received. I made her aware she had not gone on the Government website (for note is https://www.gov.uk/government/organi...censing-agency and has the Government crest) but had inadvertently used a "consulting service", several of which use orange colourings which I believe used to be very similar to old Government websites such as the jobcentre (I think). These sites charge you money for completing a form for you (something you are quite capable of doing for free) in addition to any application fee legitmately charged by the Government.
There are several sites doing all the same thing with very similar terms and conditions...but read further!!!
Anyway, she'd applied and they'd emailed back basically saying they couldn't do what she wanted and refunding money less an admin fee of £8 (which seems a fairly common amount out there suggesting the sites are all owned by related people - not sure if this is the case). Now this admin fee is in their Terms and Conditions and applies IF YOU CANCEL before or after they have 'processed' your application.
Bit of legal background....for a valid legal contract you must have offer (you wanting to enter a contract by going on their website and pressing submit), acceptance (them getting your application and deciding to take it on - it doesn't matter if they have taken your money in terms of acceptance itself), intention to enter legal relations (this is presumed when it is an agreement not within the family, so here is you and a business) and consideration (each side giving something to the other in return, here you giving money, them giving their services). Additionally there must be certainty for a court to enforce a contract (so terms and conditions must be good and you must know what you're paying and what you're getting); Terms and Conditions need to be incorporated into the contract (and usually it is good practice to show this by having a 'tick-box' agreeing that you have read the T&Cs and a web-link right next to it).
Now I know it's only £8....but that's not the point! If they're not entitled to it through the contract then it's basically theft! So...I wrote a letter and numerous emails arguing various points and got the money back eventually though they were not overly polite, tried using their T&Cs and interestingly never gave their name or company name in correspendence (even their website in my case didn't give the company name or registration number at Comapnies House - something I think they must do). The refund also came as a cheque in the post with nothing else - no apology, no acknowledgement slip, nothing!
My arguments were:
They turned around and said they couldn't process the application and were going to make a refund of £62 (being £70 less the £8). The first argument is therefore that they had not 'accepted' the contract because they couldn't do it. If no contract, then their Terms and conditions are irrrelevant (whether or not they try to get around Consumer Protection Regulations by you 'agreeing' that their service starts straight away, thereby not giving you the usual 7 days distance selling protection). If there is no contract you are entitled to a full refund.
If they had accepted (which I doubt) then it was THEM that had tried to terminate. Their T&Cs whereby you agreed for them to take £8 if YOU cancel are irrelevant! Technically a valid contract exists and they are now in BREACH OF CONTRACT! The result is they must put you back in the position you would be if the contract had been fulfilled...here this means make a full refund (but could also include interest, legal costs in enforcing the contract, etc).
Now, in my (wife's) case, I also argued that the T&Cs were not incorporated correctly and she didn't know how much she was paying (i.e. no 'certainty') and if these arguments were correct they also wouldn't be able to enforce the contract as the court wouldn't know what TO enforce.
Anyway, what if YOU cancelled?...
Well now a valid contract exists and (if their T&Cs are incorporated correctly) then you have signed up to this £8 deduction. But if they haven't processed it, then what 'consideration' have they given for yours (the money)?...
....In my case they went from saying they hadn't processed it in one email to then trying to say they had in the next by 'looking at it and deciding they couldn't do it as well as storing the information for Data Protection (!!)'. My arguments here were that by looking at it they are deciding whether to enter the contract...which means they haven't accepted it (and quite frankly if the sums were bigger would you be content with paying £1000 and them then saying they can't but still taking £500 of your money as an admin charge? Ludicrous.). Additionally they can't charge for something that they have a legal statutory duty to do...i.e. protect your data. That argument is a nonsense. They have to do it anyway, regardless of whetehr you are paying for a service.
In other cases, if they have actually done some work then they can keep the £8 as you have signed up for that. HOWEVER, if this is done AFTER you have tried to cancel within the first 7 days then I think it is arguable that performance of the contract has not yet begun and it seems (although this is not too clear from the Regulations) that in this case the Consumer Protection Regulations mean you can still cancel within the first 7 days, in which case it is as if the contract did not exist (i.e. you get a full refund because if it didn't exist the T&Cs don't apply again!).
I hope this has been of use. I think I've covered most scenarios and there is a lot of information there which may be of use to your individual case! For me the whole argument and discussion with them was completely unnecessary and if they are going to these lengths to try and keep money they are NOT entitled to, then how reputable are they??
However, as I start with a law firm as a trainee solicitor in Sept (hopefully), they chose the wrong person this time and I would quite happily have spent more to take them to court just for the practice! :-D Even if it was only £8!
Good luck with your case....
These scam companies have come under some scrutiny recently and are likely to go out of business before very long, because they will lose their position at the top of a Google search. I suspect that they are all one really - even if they seem to be different.
Their business model no doubt allows for law students and retired people with time and determination to push for their money back. They would never allow it to go to court. Most people would write it off to experience.
Way back in the 60s I bought some shirts from a guy in the factory where I was working. They were nice shirts and very good value, so I told loads of other people about it. Naturally the guy soon ran out of shirts, but continued to collect money for future deliveries. If anyone complained about the - ever increasing - wait, he simply returned their cash. One day he vanished, leaving several dozen unhappy 'customers' with no way to recover their money.
These scams are used on a wide variety of websites where it is possible to make a charge for providing a "service". Not only 'gov.uk' sites, but holiday bookings, theatre bookings and much more. They also try to filch the official websites of retailers; e.g., Argos, Curry's, John Lewis, etc.
The important thing is to look carefully for the correct URL address for the website, which will start with the firms name, followed by .co.uk or .com or .gov.uk It is easy to be caught until you are aware of these scams, after which time natural cautiousness should steer you well clear of them.