ASA Ruling on Esta Visa Ltd
Esta Visa Ltd t/a
348–350 Lytham Road
21 December 2011
Internet (on own site), Internet (search engine)
Number of complaints:
Two sponsored search results for a website offering EHIC applications, seen on 17 and 25 October 2011. Ad (a) stated "EHIC Card Registrations | nhs-direct.org.uk www.nhs-direct.org.uk EHIC Replaces The E111 Health Card, Apply For Your Free EHIC Card Today". Ad (b) stated "Want A New E111? - EHIC Replaces The E111 Health Card www.nhs-direct.org.uk Apply For Your Free EHIC Card Today".
1. Two complainants challenged whether ads (a) and (b) were misleading because they believed the URL "www.nhs-direct.org.uk" implied a link with the NHS.
2. One complainant challenged whether the claim "Apply For Your Free EHIC Card Today" in ad (b) was misleading because he believed customers were charged for the application.
CAP Code (Edition 12)
1. Esta Visa Ltd t/a nhs-direct.org.uk (Esta Visa) stated that large text at the bottom of all pages of the website made clear that they were not connected with the NHS in any way.
2. Esta Visa said their ads stated that the EHIC card was free, which was correct. They pointed out that just above the "Click to Apply" button on the website, text explained that customers who used their website would be paying for a check and verification service. They pointed out that under the heading "Applying for EHIC - Your Options" on the home page, they stated that prospective customers had four options which were to use their website, to use the NHSBSA (NHS Business Services Authority) website, to call the NHSBSA or to visit a local post office. They pointed out that they had provided the NHSBSA website address and telephone number and had clearly stated that those options were completely free.
The ASA noted that the website included text at the bottom of each page that explained the advertisers were not affiliated to the NHSBSA, Department of Health or any other government office. However, we considered that the use of the term "nhs-direct" in the URL implied the advertiser was NHS Direct, which consumers would know to be the official provider of telephone and online health services in the UK. Because that was not the case, we concluded that the ads were misleading.
On this point ads (a) and (b) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 and 3.3 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation) and 3.50 (Endorsements).
We considered consumers would understand the claim "Apply For Your Free EHIC Card Today" to mean that they could obtain an EHIC card for free from the advertiser's website. We considered that this perception would be reinforced by the URL which, for the reasons stated above, we considered implied it was an official NHS Direct website. We considered that consumers should not be required to pay more than the costs of applying for and having a "free" item delivered but we noted that there was no way of obtaining the EHIC card from the website without paying a fee for a "check and verification service". Although the website had explained that a fee would apply and that free, application-only alternatives were available, we considered that the ad had not made clear the extent of the commitment consumers would have to make to obtain the card from the website. Because the card could not be obtained for free from the website, we concluded that the ad was misleading.
On this point ad (b) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 and 3.3 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation) and 3.23 ("Free" products).
The ads must not appear again in their current form. We told Esta Visa to ensure they did not mislead consumers regarding the commercial nature of their website or the costs associated with applying for an EHIC card with them.