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Who Benefits?

01
Aug
2012

Directgov is where people in the UK go to find information on tax, benefits, public services and other related services (if you’re not from the UK, you may have seen their logo used in student loan phishes).

Today I found a couple of websites sporting the Directgov logo related to housing and benefits – however, they didn’t appear to be in any way official. Shall we take a look?

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The above site is incomesupportbenefits(dot)com, touting a Union Jack and a peculiar logo that’s almost an optical illusion (stare at the middle and watch that propeller blade spin!) It claims to “serve millions of people per month by providing them with the contact information to the proper government agencies to file their income support benefits”. By filling out a form, “exclusive benefits” will “help them during their period of financial instability and unemployment”.

Most of the Qualification criteria information is lifted from the official Dotgov page – low income, work less than 16 hours a week, lone parents, refugees, at risk of abuse or violence etc – in short, people who need some assistance. Entering a name, EMail and postcode leads to the following upon hitting the Submit button:

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A somewhat small and out of focus Directgov logo has appeared, along with the words “Income Support Applicant Verification”.

“To obtain your income support benefits quicker through us, you must complete the final verification process below”.

It continues:

“All Income Support applicants on this site are now required to check their credit score online and submit it here in order to proceed.”

The purpose of this verification is to prevent fraud and authenticate the profile of all our applicants. Please take note this is a verification process only and the result of your credit score will not in any way affect your Income Support benefits application. We just need to know that you are a real person.”

Hey, you know what else works when attempting to establish if someone is a real person? “2+2=?” Clearly, I missed the part where someone decided that taking a credit score check was the only way to fend off bots. It’s certainly a step up from “have ten ringtones and a dating profile”.

Clicking the “Authorised credit retrieval agent” button presents the end-user with the following:

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The Terms and Conditions talk about sharing information with marketers and SMS services that you have to text a “stop” message to in order to exit whatever they want you to sign up to.

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What any of this has to do with applying for income support, I’ve no idea – in fact, here’s the more straightforward two step plan way of doing things:

1) Make an appointment with your local Jobcentre Plus or apply online.

2) There is no 2. And to be clear, you don’t need to perform a credit check on yourself to apply for income support – any “checks” made are performed entirely by the benefits agency themselves.

Interestingly, visiting the site from outside the UK doesn’t tell you to go away – indeed, it lists your physical location and gives you another kind of offer that isn’t quite so credit score-centric:

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Gift cards, MacBooks and iPads, oh my.

Elsewhere, affordablehousingvoucher(dot)com plays host to the Dotgov logo on the frontpage of the site along with Twitter and Facebook icons (none of which are clickable) and looks – at first glance – to be helpful:

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“Claim your housing benefits today”, along with claims of searching housing associations and finding housing benefits. Sounds good, huh? What could possibly go wr-

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Oh, right. Everything.

Despite the Directgov logo and the mentions of housing benefits, take a look at the house behind the popup. Given that all the properties are located about 5,000 miles away in Glendale Arizona, UK benefits hopefuls might have their work cut out for them here.

And speaking of “cut outs”, let’s take a look at the page elements hidden beneath the big “Apply now” box via the magical art of switching off JavaScript and highlighting everything on the page so most of it shows up as blue.

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All of the supposedly interactive elements of the page? The best match box in the middle, the information panel down the left hand side allowing you to specify your search criteria, the indicator on the panel that says “Spotlight property” with clickable arrows suggesting that you’re on page 5 of 9?

Good luck with that, because they’re all standalone png graphic files and all the “Check availability” buttons do nothing. Clicking any of the home listings – as you’ve probably guessed by now – doesn’t take you to a listing. You just sit looking at the same page wondering why you bothered.

Here’s my simple to step plan to get your hands on some housing benefit information:

1) Go to the housing benefit information page.

2) There is no step 2.

Is it just me, or are we seeing a pattern here?

Don’t bother going to third party websites offering up benefits information in return for filling out surveys, credit checks or offers related to gift cards. As we can see above, the hoop jumping probably isn’t worth the payoff at the end of it and as the official Dotgov site is the top result in Google for both “housing benefits” and “income support”, you really don’t need to waste time looking at houses in Arizona or men jumping around in lycra.

Christopher Boyd

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