Someone must be bricking it: UK govt website for first-time home buyers snapped up for £40,000 after left to expire

About the same as a deposit on a nice house

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The UK government’s affordable housing arm was left with egg on its face when one of its domain names, used for a website aimed at first-time buyers, expired this month.

Homes England launched the Help-to-Buy website in 2013 to get people on the property ladder, by walking them through shared ownership, equity loans, and such schemes. It lived at Helptobuy.org.uk, a domain name that became somewhat of a British internet cornerstone with thousands of webpages and government documents linking to it.

Yet the domain was left to expire following an “administrative error” earlier this month, Homes England admitted, resulting in someone grabbing the valuable web address for less than £10. The lucky buyer then flogged the name on e-auction house Domainlore, where it was sold for a very healthy £40,251. This is far higher than most good .uk names, highlighting its value as an online address that will attract a lot of traffic.

Waiting to expire

The mistake appears to stem from the fact the government moved the Help-to-Buy site from a .org.uk to a .gov.uk address in late 2015, automatically redirecting the original domain to the new one. Despite all the traffic coming into the .gov.uk address from the humble dot-org-dot-uk, Whitehall's domain-name folk clearly didn’t put the outdated address on their list of addresses to protect – .gov.uk addresses are usually automatically protected from expiring and are not available for purchase by the public even if they do expire.

On Monday this week, the domain was pointed to a parking page owned by registrar 123-Reg. And then, in the UK evening, the domain redirected again to the right Homes England website at Helptobuy.gov.uk. Right now, it's back to the 123-Reg parking page, offering, rather than help to own your own home, help to own your own website.

Does this mean the UK government was forced to pay more than £40,000 to recover a domain? Did the red-faced IT bods at Homes England need help to buy it? Or did the new owner have an attack of conscience?

We’ve asked, and in the unlikely event that the UK government is willing to admit it is anything but perfectly correct at all times, we’ll update this story. ®

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