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People ordering birth, death and marriage certificates were warned by the Registrar General today not to be fooled by unofficial websites, after an advertising watchdog investigation.
The advertising standards authority (ASA) has upheld a complaint from the registrar general about third party websites misleading customers into believing that they were ordering from the government’s own website.
The ASA has warned ‘UK official services’ and ‘UK GRO certificates’ that they were in breach of the committee of advertising practice (CAP) code and that they must stop appearing or implying that they are the general register office.
GRO today welcomed the ruling, and reminded customers that they could be charged more than three times the price of replacement certificates by other websites.
Sarah Rapson, registrar general and chief executive of the identity and passport service said:
‘The ASA has sent a very clear message to customers and those companies that mislead them: there is just one official online certificate ordering service for England and Wales.
‘It is always quicker, cheaper and safer to deal directly with the general register office for certificate orders.
‘While other outlets can be found online, there is no reason to pay over the odds and I would urge customers to look at the official site first before ordering anywhere else.’
In June this year the registrar general made a complaint to the ASA which agreed to investigate a small number of websites to establish a position that can then be applied to similar websites.
The ASA has confirmed that claims made on the websites ‘UK official services’ and ‘UK GRO certificates’ were misleading. The ASA’s report states that references to ‘official’ and ‘government’ used on their website could mislead customers into believing that they had bought a certificate from the general register office. Text such as ‘guaranteed official certificates’ implied that the company was the government service from which consumers ordered replacement certificates.
They also considered the use of the acronym “GRO” in UK GRO’s name and claims such as ‘general register office types’ and ‘All certificates obtained from govt sources’ created the overall impression that the website was an official government website.
The complaint has therefore been upheld and the companies found to be in breach of the committee of advertising practice (CAP) code. The companies have been told that the claims must not appear nor imply that they are the general register office.
If the third party websites do not comply with the adjudication, the complaint will be passed to a compliance team who will consider applying sanctions.
Notes to editors
1. The full ASA adjudication reports can be read at http://www.asa.org.uk/ASA-action/Adjudications/2011/11/UK-Official-Services/SHP_ADJ_164314.aspx and http://www.asa.org.uk/ASA-action/Adjudications/2011/11/UK-GRO-Certificates/SHP_ADJ_164312.aspx
2. The identity and passport service (IPS) is an executive agency of the home office, providing passports for British citizens and passport validation services.
3. The general register office (GRO) became part of IPS on 1 April 2008. GRO oversees the system of civil registration, including births, stillbirths, adoptions, civil partnerships, marriages and deaths, in England and Wales.
4. The GRO online ordering service currently receives more than 3,800 online orders per day and 2.5 million views per month. In 2010/2011 we issued 1.5 million certificates.
5. In some cases, companies charged more than three times the price of replacement birth certificates as the general register office.
6. Customers for replacement birth certificates can be charged up to £74.99 for an unofficial ‘express’ online service when the same express service is £23.40 via the identity & passport service. IPS’s standard certificate service is available for even less - £9.25. This service is available through directgov at www.direct.gov.uk/gro
7. For media enquiries relating to GRO and life event registration, please contact home office press office on 020 7035 3535.