A website for a commercial company that offered services to check and submit applications for the NHS European Health Insurance Card on behalf of customers, www.ukehic.com, seen in June 2016. Text on the left-hand side at the top of the home page stated "EHIC APPLICATION FORM", with smaller text beneath that stated "(the replacement of the old E111)”. The menu on the top right of the page also included a link titled “NHS”. The page included an online application form and information indicating the stages of the online form process. A button underneath the form was labelled "NEXT STEP" and progressed the user through the application stages. Small text in grey italics underneath the button stated "We are neither affiliated with nor part of the NHS. We can submit an EHIC application on your behalf for a fee of £35. We cannot grant you an EHIC card ourselves. This decision rests solely on the NHS. You can obtain an EHIC card from the NHS without our checking service, in which case 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 European Health Insurance Card applications or that it was affiliated with the official website.
Application Advice Service UK Ltd t/a EHIC Applications UK acknowledged the complaint and stated that over 5,000 people applied for the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) through their website each month, and that they had read and understood the disclaimers on their website.
The ASA noted that the name of the website at the top of the page, the reference to ‘NHS’ on the top right menu, the text boxes indicating the different stages of the immediate application form and the section titles within the form were in blue, which was similar to the shade of blue in the colour scheme used in the NHS logos and also on the NHS website. We further noted that the layout of the home page and the application form was simple and did not include any images or additional graphics. We considered that those elements 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.
While text further down the home page contained additional information about the nature of EHIC Applications UK’s services, we considered that the application form, particularly its position at the top of the page, would be the main focus of consumers’ attention when visiting the website. We noted that qualifying text was positioned underneath the ‘NEXT STEP’ button, which was large in size and in a bright yellow colour, below the application form at the top part of the home page. The qualification stated that the website was not part of or affiliated with the NHS and that consumers could apply for an EHIC card directly without charge. However, we noted that it was set out in faint grey italics against the grey background of the home page, whereas the text on the rest of the page was black and blue. The italicised text was also in a smaller font size than the rest of the text on the page. In addition, we were also concerned that the large size and the bright colour of the ‘NEXT STEP’ button were likely to distract consumers from reading the qualification and therefore could be easily overlooked. 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.
For those reasons, we considered that the website was likely to give an impression that it was the official NHS EHIC application website, or that it was affiliated with the official website, and because that was not the case, we concluded that the ad was misleading.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.
Marketing communications must not mislead the consumer by omitting material information. They must not mislead by hiding material information or presenting it in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner.
Material information is information that the consumer needs to make informed decisions in relation to a product. Whether the omission or presentation of material information is likely to mislead the consumer depends on the context, the medium and, if the medium of the marketing communication is constrained by time or space, the measures that the marketer takes to make that information available to the consumer by other means. (Misleading advertising), 3.9 3.9 Marketing communications must state significant limitations and qualifications. Qualifications may clarify but must not contradict the claims that they qualify. and 3.10 3.10 Qualifications must be presented clearly.
CAP has published a Help Note on Claims that Require Qualification. (Qualification).
The ad must not appear again in the form complained of. We told EHIC Applications UK 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, for example, by including text that resembled the NHS logo. 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. We also told them to ensure that any qualifications were sufficiently prominent (for example, in conjunction with initial claims or calls to action, such as an application form or ‘Apply Now’ button), so as not to mislead consumers about the nature of their service. Any qualification should be of a clearly visible colour and sufficient size, and presented separately from other information, to ensure it was prominent and would be read by consumers.