Throughout this Halloween week we will be looking at terrifying tales where critical domains have lapsed, what happened to them and what Lexsynergy would have done differently.

In 2013 Homes England (a branch of the UK government) launched a new website to help people get on the property ladder by explaining different schemes such as shared ownership, ISAs, equity loans and more. This website originally lived at helptobuy.org.uk and had high traffic volume.

The previous year the government had rolled out one of the biggest changes to its online infrastructure in the last decade, with the launch of gov.uk which Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office claimed “cost taxpayers up to £70m less per year than the services it replaces, and substantial further savings will be achieved as more departments and agencies move on to the platform.” As such more and more of the government’s domain portfolio began to fall under the gov.uk banner and in 2015 it became the sole domain extension for all government related services, projects and updates.

This may explain why in June of 2020 an ‘administrative error’ led to the original domain helptobuy.org.uk being deleted and registered for just £10.

With the high volume of traffic and trust associated with it,  the domain achieved a price of £40,251 when it went to auction. Today the website acts as a lead generation tool for private companies looking to offer legal advice on the same subjects as the government’s website, only for a fee.

So what would Lexsynergy advise in a case like this?

“By securing their own domain extension, the UK government have made it very clear that if you are not visiting gov.uk you are not getting official information, but should not have allowed their legacy domains to lapse. It can take time to build up goodwill and reputation in a brand or domain and that residual goodwill can continue even when the domain ceases to be used or if there is a change of ownership. The consequences could have been severe had a disreputable company acquired the domain and the potential backlash the UK government could have faced.” says Robert White, Head of Brand Protection at Lexsynergy.

“Looking at the options to recover the domain, it’s important to note that there is nothing illegal in a private company offering paid services to do something which may be accessible for free. I think many of us will remember with PPI, where it was possible to do your own paperwork for free and yet companies sprung up offering this service for a fee.

Consumers have the right to choose and it is not illegal for the purchaser of this domain to have used it in this way per se. When we compare the two websites side by side, you can see that although they use similar colour schemes there is enough of a difference so that the privately owned website cannot be accused of passing-off or copyright infringement. They do not claim an association with the scheme on the website, only that they have experts who can help you with different aspects of it.

 

If we were representing the UK Government and trying to recover this domain, it is important to remember that the company who owns that domain paid a high price for it. Their business model is to obtain a percentage of the work from the solicitors and it follows that it would require a fairly substantial cash amount to recover the domain, possibly around the £100k mark. I doubt taxpayers would consider this a good use of public funds.

Without a strong legal basis to recover the domain and its generic nature, the UK Government does not appear a grounds to recover the domain. The only option may be to buy it back, which could set an undesirable precedent.

Lexsynergy have a niche in online brand protection and have won 100% of our domain dispute cases. Make sure you don't end up in a horror story like this one by contacting Scott: scott@lexsynergy.com