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Trust waning in price comparison websites, OFT warns

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Trust in price comparison websites is waning and more must be done by providers to ensure consumers don't miss out on valuable savings, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has said.

The OFT believes that the introduction of price comparison sites, such as MoneySupermarket.com and CompareTheMarket.com, has been a major step forward for consumers.

Money Supermarket website screenshot


A previous study by the organisation indicated that up to £240 million a year could be collectively saved by the UK population by using the websites effectively.

However, the OFT has written to 100 leading price comparison site operators asking them to ensure they are providing clear information to consumers.

Whilst it stressed that the sites have not done anything illegal, the OFT feels that they "could do more to improve trust amongst the public".

It said that the operators must provide greater clarity over the way search results are presented, and give a much clearer identification of who actually operates the website, so that people know who they are dealing with.

The OFT has also conducted a 'websweep' of 55 price comparison sites and found that a number of them could improve the way they handle users' private data, as well as sharpen up their complaints policies.

Some consumer groups have called for price comparison sites to be regulated, but instead the OFT has worked with government departments and other regulators to create a six 'top tips' for using the sites effectively. This includes:

- Always read the privacy policy information.
- Check if there is the ability to opt out of your personal information being shared with other companies.
- Be aware of how results are displayed on the sites, such as by relevance, price or popularity.
- Use a number of different sites to get the broadest possible view of offers available.
- Know who you are doing business with by checking the identity of the operator (not just the name of the website).
- If possible, use an accredited site, either by Consumer Focus, Ofcom, the government or another recognised body.
- If you have a problem, always consult Citizens Advice as they could help, even if the website has said nothing can be done.

Clive Maxwell, the OFT chief executive, said that people might not realise that by being a "bit savvier" they can get even more out of price comparison 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," he said.

"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."

Maxwell also noted that the government intends to release more data back to consumers under the "midata initiative".

As there will be new opportunities for people get more value out of price comparison sites, Maxwell felt that it was important the "issues around consumer trust are tackled now".

Consumer Affairs Minister Jo Swinson said that price comparison websites can empower 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," Swinson added.

"I welcome the work that the OFT has done to review this area and to make sure that consumers really are getting the best deals they can.

"With our recent 'midata' programme, consumers will be able to get the accurate data on their buying habits needed for quality comparison sites to help them save money."

> Online personalised pricing investigated by regulator

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