OFT targets legal websites in push to improve standards among price comparison services


Online services: not all sites have the same standards

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has written to five legal price comparison websites to urge them to ensure they are providing clear information to consumers, after a review suggested that some sites could do more to improve trust amongst the public.

The OFT review said that in general, price comparison websites have represented a major step forward for consumers, enabling them to secure better value when buying goods and services, but that some people are missing out on potential savings because of a lack of trust.

The legal websites were among 100 leading comparison services targeted by the OFT. There is no suggestion that any of them is in breach of any legislation. The Legal Services Consumer Panel has been working on comparison websites for some time, producing a list of 20 best practice elements, supported by the Legal Services Board.

As part of its review, the OFT conducted a ‘websweep’ of 55 price comparison sites, which found that a number of sites could improve their privacy policies and their complaints and redress processes. It also identified scope for some sites to provide greater clarity about the way search results are presented, and clear identification of the business operating the website.

The OFT has joined forces with other government departments, sector regulators and consumer groups – including the Legal Services Board and Legal Services Consumer Panel – to develop top tips for consumers.

OFT chief executive Clive Maxwell said: “Price comparison websites help busy shoppers find a good deal, but people might not realise that by being a bit savvier they can get even more out of these websites.

“Not all price comparison websites have the same standards and we are working closely with the government and regulators to ensure that consumers are empowered to make informed choices. We hope this will improve trust and confidence among consumers who do not currently use price comparison websites, and who may be missing out on significant savings as a result.”

Consumer affairs minister Jo Swinson added: “Price comparison websites have played a huge role in empowering consumers to make better, more informed choices. When a consumer uses these popular and well-known sites, they believe they are being savvy shoppers, and it’s important that their trust is well-founded.”

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