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Warning over copycat EHIC websites as watchdog pulls ad

Written by: Paloma Kubiak
A website offering to check and submit applications for the free-to-obtain NHS European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) for £35 has been reprimanded by the advertising watchdog.

Application Advice Service UK Ltd trading online as offered to help customers with their EHIC application form for a fee of £35.

The EHIC gives UK citizens access to free or reduced-price healthcare in other EU countries.

However, small text in grey italics towards the bottom of the page stated that it was “neither affiliated with nor part of the NHS” and that it “cannot grant you an EHIC card” but customers can obtain an EHIC card from the NHS without its checking service, where there will be no fees payable.

The NHS Business Services Authority and eight members of the public challenged whether the ad misleadingly implied that it was the official NHS website for EHIC applications or that it was affiliated with the official website.

In its response, Application Advice Service UK Ltd stated that 5,000 customers use its service each month and that “they had read and understood the disclaimers on their website.”

However, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) upheld the complaints, finding that the section titles within the form were in blue, similar to the shade used in the NHS logo and on the official site.

It also noted the layout of the home page and the application form was “simple” and did not include any images or additional graphics which it considered “were likely to contribute to an immediate impression that the website was the official NHS EHIC application website or that it was affiliated with the official website.”

In its ruling, the AS stated: “We did not consider that the disclaimer was sufficiently prominent to counteract the misleading impression that the EHIC Applications UK website was the official application website, or that it was affiliated with the official NHS website.”

The ASA told the company that the ad must not appear again in the form complained about and its website mustn’t create a misleading impression that it was the official NHS website for EHIC applications or that they were affiliated with the official NHS website. Further, 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.

To apply for a free EHIC, see the official government site.

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