We regularly hear from small business owners who have been asked to pay for government information or services that are actually available free of charge.
This can happen when you’re searching online and stumble on a website that looks like a government website but in fact isn’t, or you may be contacted by a private organisation offering to provide government information and services for a fee, such as registering a business name or an Australian Business Number (ABN).
We’ve put together these tips to help make sure you don’t end up paying for free government information or services.
Check the website’s address
Make sure you’re on an official government website by carefully checking its address. If it ends in ‘.gov.au’ you’re probably in the right place.
Businesses trying to mimic government websites will often use addresses like www.abnregistry.org.au or www.officialgovtgrants.com.au
Beware of adverts appearing in search results
Pay attention to where the listing appears in your search results. The first results provided by search engines such as Google are paid placements and are often used by private companies looking to charge for free services (such as applying for an ABN).
Watch for the icon highlighting which results are paid ads – see the following example. Paid ads may actually be the first three or four results in a search.
Seek advice before signing up
If you’re unsure about a contract you’ve been asked to sign or a fee you’ve been asked to pay for what you believe to be a government service, check with us before agreeing to it. Our business advisers provide free advice and can help you determine if you are dealing with a genuine government department. You can call us on 13 12 49 from 8:30am to 4:30pm Monday to Friday.
An example of a website mimicking a government service
The Fair Work Ombudsman has received complaints about businesses claiming they are, or were, connected or affiliated with government agencies. For example www.fairworkhelp.com.au is actually operated by Employsure Pty Ltd, a private organisation, however all this information is available free of charge from the official Fair Work website and their info line (13 13 94).
Unfortunately, this is one of many areas where small business owners have been caught out paying for information and services that can be obtained at no cost. In most instances government information and services are available free of charge. If you’re asked to pay for information or for assistance with a business matter, it’s possible you aren’t talking to a government department.
Remember, if you’re in doubt, contact us before signing any contracts for government services or paying to access any government specific information (such as grants).