Unofficial health insurance card website ruled to have misled consumers

An unofficial website for the NHS European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) has been ordered to immediately clarify its charges for using the free service following 84 complaints it was misleading consumers.

The website created the misleading impression it was the official NHS website for applications for the free EHIC card, which gives UK travellers in Europe access to state-provided healthcare available to a resident, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said.

The website for the commercial company said it offered an audit and submission service for the card for £34.50, further stating: "You can apply without a checking service where there will be no fee payable. We are not affiliated with the NHS or any government organisation."

The ASA received 84 complaints, 83 from members of the public and one from the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA), that EHIC Direct misleadingly implied it was the official website for submitting EHIC application forms.

Smith & Lawson Ltd, trading as EHIC Direct, said it had made significant changes to the website in response to the ASA's inquiries, which it believed adequately addressed the issues raised by the complainants.

However, the ASA said that given the number of complaints, including from consumers who paid a fee to get their EHIC card via the website, it considered a formal ruling was appropriate.

It said the advert implied it was the official platform for accepting EHIC application forms and all disclaimers were in small print and required scrolling down, concluding it was likely to mislead consumers.

It also ruled the ad must not appear again in the form complained about, adding: "We told EHIC Direct to ensure that their website did not create a misleading impression that it was the official NHS website for EHIC applications or that they were affiliated with the official NHS website.

"The website should make immediately clear the non-official nature of the service on offer and the additional cost of using that service compared to using the official service directly."

EHIC Direct said: "The ruling from the ASA arises from complaints made in relation to our historic advertising.

"Before the ruling was made, we actively engaged with the ASA and also took specialist advice with a view to correcting the issues that were perceived to be present on our website.

"As a result of that engagement and advice, we made changes to our website and we understand it is now compliant with the CAP Code, which was always our intention."