A company which charges £34.50 to 'process' free EHIC cards has been rapped for wrongly implying it was the official NHS site.
Regulator the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) reviewed the website EHIC Direct (ehicdirect.org.uk) after receiving 83 complaints from members of the public and one from the NHS Business Services Authority.
The ASA found the website was likely to mislead customers and made inaccurate claims, and ordered it to make a number of changes.
MoneySavingExpert.com has long warned against copycat websites. See our Free EHIC Card guide for full information, including how to get an EHIC, or European Health Insurance Card, which entitles you to free or discounted medical care in 28 countries.
ASA: 'It implied it was the official platform'
The ASA investigated three areas of complaint:
- That ehicdirect.org.uk misleadingly implied it was the official website for submitting EHIC card applications – decision upheld, ie, the ASA agreed this was the case.
- That ehicdirect.org.uk claimed it offered services that the NHS site didn't – upheld.
- That the advertised helpline suggested you could get through to an adviser – not upheld.
EHIC Direct had claimed it did not use the term "official" on its website, other than in disclaimers to say it was not the official site, but the ASA said the disclaimers were not prominent enough.
Its ruling said: "We considered the [website] implied that it was the official platform for accepting EHIC application forms [and] we concluded it was likely to mislead consumers.
In terms of the action it took, the ASA said: "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 ASA acknowledged that EHIC Direct has amended the content of its website to make it clearer it is not an official NHS service, but given the number of complaints still made a formal ruling.
A spokesperson for 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 [the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct and Promotional Marketing], which was always our intention."
EHICs are free
MSE has long warned of 'copycat' websites which charge for services which are free – especially for EHICs, which have been free going back to the days of the old E111 cards, which were replaced in 2005.
I paid for my card – can I get my money back?
It can be difficult to get your money back from copycats. However, if you believe you've been misled or the website wasn't clear, it's worth contacting the firm in question to ask for a refund. See the Paid-for EHIC applicants could get refund MSE News story.
If you're concerned about an unofficial EHIC website, contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 04 05 06. See the National Trading Standards website for more info.