The homepage of the DVLA Licence Apply website features a rather amateurish logo depicting two hands clutching a steering wheel.
It then lists its services, which include providing a provisional licence for £91.60 and replacing a lost, stolen or damaged one for £77.60, each next to an inviting blue button that says ‘Apply Now’.
Given that the same products are available for £34 and £20 respectively from the official DVLA website, it is difficult to know why you would.
Unapologetic: Simon Button is the man behind the rip-off website DVLA Licence Apply that lures consumers into paying over the odds for driving licences
Nor is it easy to find out what you actually get for paying more than three times the necessary price, because the website’s telephone line has been down for weeks, if not more, and repeated emails to its customer support team go unanswered.
Last week Money Mail revealed how the company paid to appear at the top of Google searches for terms such as ‘replacement driving licence’ and ‘driving licence apply’ — and above Government websites.
It meant that people in a rush, including the Mail’s City Editor Alex Brummer, were mistaking the website for the actual DVLA page and paying hefty fees unnecessarily.
Our investigation prompted Google to remove the sponsored ad, with the tech giant saying it breached its rules on selling products or services that are available from the Government at a lower price, unless there was a clear added value.
In the absence of working telephone lines or active customer support, Money Mail has finally tracked down the company’s owner.
To our surprise, we found him not at some dishevelled shack in the corner of an industrial estate, but at a respectable law firm in Norwich city centre.
For Simon Button, the man behind the rip-off website that lures consumers into paying over the odds for driving licences, is in fact a solicitor, specialising in commercial property, as well as director of the International Colleagues School of English, a school in Norwich.
The 47-year-old lives in a three-storey terraced townhouse with a built-in garage on a new estate on the outskirts of Norwich, estimated to be worth around £350,000, and drives an Audi TT sports car.
According to his LinkedIn profile, he was educated at Gresham’s School, a prestigious boarding school in Holt, Norfolk, which charges up to £36,000 per year and counts W. H. Auden, Benjamin Britten and Olivia Colman among its alumni.
He then studied rural resources management at the University of Edinburgh before completing his law qualifications at the University of East Anglia and the College of Law, Birmingham.
I was tricked into paying £58
Danny Keane ended up paying £57.60 to renew his driving licence when he could have got it for free
When Danny Keane received a letter from the DVLA saying he needed to renew his driving licence before his 70th birthday, he got straight to it.
He punched into Google the application address stated on the letter and clicked on the first result that came up.
Unfortunately for Danny, he ended up paying £57.60 to renew his licence when he could have got it for free.
That’s because the top result on Google was the website run by solicitor Simon Button.
Button’s website dvlalicenceapply.co.uk had been paying Google to appear at the top of searches for terms such as ‘replacement driving licence’.
While the website carries a disclaimer saying it is not affiliated to the DVLA, its web address, branding and top billing on Google means people assume it is the official site.
Mr Button’s website charges £57.60 to renew a licence if you’re 70 or over. To do so on the official DVLA website is free.
‘I think it’s disgusting,’ says Danny, 69. ‘Having worked in sales I know when I’m being led up the garden path but you’d have to be a private detective to notice the difference.
‘The things that you have to fill in are identical. I wish I had logged out. It was all over in a matter of seconds.
‘You realise you’ve been totally scammed and feel a right idiot.’
He has been a practising solicitor since 2008 and joined his current firm, Steeles Law, in September 2018.
That same month he set up Driving Licence Apply Ltd and was its director until November 28 this year when he resigned.
But he still owns Ottaway Holdings Ltd, which remains the majority shareholder in the company.
At around 10am on Monday, Money Mail arrived at the offices of Steeles Law, a stone’s throw away from Norwich Castle.
After calling in at reception, our reporter was met by Mr Button, who was casually dressed in a grey sweatshirt and green chinos.
The reporter suggested that it would be best to conduct the conversation in private and was led into a meeting room.
When asked whether the processing of driving licence applications at inflated prices through his website was at odds with his role as a solicitor, Mr Button initially sought to distance himself from the business.
‘As you have seen, I am no longer a director of it, but I am the effective owner,’ he said. ‘I guess that is partly the reason why I am getting out of it.’
When asked what he meant by ‘getting out’ of the business, he said he had already left as a director and would be relinquishing ownership of the company.
The 47-year-old added: ‘It is partly because you are coming to see me and partly because of what it is and the hassle that it is creating. I am getting out of it.’
But he remained adamant that he would not close it down and would be seeking to sell it or allow someone else to take over.
According to Companies House, the new director is 31-year-old Bashir Ahmed Salvo Maso, who lives in Spain.
Mr Button declined to be drawn on the pair’s connection or the Spaniard’s role in the business. But he said that DVLA Licence Apply was the first website of its kind he had been involved with.
When asked why he had set it up, he questioned how the article was going to be written and demanded the reporter hand over the pages from his notebook.
The reporter refused to comply.
A spokesman for National Trading Standards says: ‘It’s important for consumers to be vigilant and avoid complacency or rushing when purchasing goods or services online.
‘New ‘copycat’ sites can pop up at any time, which is why it’s so important for people to report any suspicious or ‘copycat’ websites to the authorities.’
It is illegal to mimic a Government website, but firms such as Driving Licence Apply Ltd stay on the right side of the law by using similar web addresses while carrying disclaimers stating they are not affiliated to official departments.
Mr Button later said in a statement: ‘There are notices all over the website stating that it is not affiliated to DVLA and in fact this is the first thing you see when you enter the website.
‘There is no intention to deceive anyone, we have tried to be as clear as possible with the notices and put them at every stage, including on the payment page.
‘The aim is to provide a site that is clearer, easier and more convenient to use then the DVLA’s website and my opinion is that we achieve this aim.
‘We refund anyone that is dissatisfied with the service, or who contacts us saying they thought we were the DVLA, in full every time.’
A spokesman for the International Colleagues School of English says they were not aware of Mr Button’s website but would be investigating the matter further.
Oliver Brabbins, managing director at Steeles Law, says DVLA Licence Apply ‘is not a business undertaken on behalf of or in any way connected with the services provided by Steeles to its clients’.
Mr Brabbins adds that Steeles ‘complies fully and completely with its obligations under the Solicitors Regulatory Authority’, but would not comment on whether the firm had, or intended to, take any action on the matter.
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