Self-funded IVF: consumer law guidance

The CMA has published guidance for fertility clinics and a guide for patients in the UK to ensure that they understand their obligations and rights under consumer law.

Timetable

Date Action
December 2021 Compliance review to begin
June 2021 Consumer Law guidance published. Guide for patients on their consumer rights published
January 2021 Draft consumer law guidance consultation closes
November 2020 Draft consumer law guidance issued for consultation
7 February 2020 Case opened

Final guidance published

10 June 2021: The CMA has published its final guidance for fertility clinics to help them understand and comply with their existing obligations under consumer law. The CMA has also published a guide and a short video for fertility patients to help them understand their consumer law rights when purchasing fertility treatment.

Jointly with the sector regulator, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, and the Advertising Standards Agency, the CMA has written to fertility clinics drawing their attention to the guidance. The letter sets out our expectations that clinics review, and if necessary, amend their practices and terms to ensure that they comply with consumer law. Other businesses in the fertility sector should also read this guidance so they too can consider what they need to do to ensure they comply consumer law.

In December 2021 the CMA will begin a review of the sector’s compliance with consumer law. Should we find evidence of non-compliance we will consider whether further action such as enforcement is necessary.

The CMA wants to hear from you if you have experience of the types of issues covered in the patient guide when buying fertility treatment. If you wish to share your relevant experience with us, please do so at the following email: ConsumerLawIVFTeam@cma.gov.uk.

Before doing so, please be aware that the CMA will use any information you provide in performing its statutory functions, and in accordance with the restrictions on disclosure in Part 9 Enterprise Act 2002.

In particular, information you provide to us will be used to provide intelligence that helps inform our compliance review. It may also be used to help us in consider or take enforcement action against IVF fertility clinics, or other businesses active in the fertility sector, should that be appropriate.

To the extent any information you provide contains personal data under the General Data Protection Regulation 2016/679 (GDPR) or domestic legislation like the Data Protection Act 2018, there is important information you should know about how we will use your information, this is available in the document below:

Update on CMA guidance on consumer law for IVF clinics in the UK

Consultation extension

5 January 2021: The CMA is consulting on draft consumer law guidance for fertility clinics. In light of feedback from stakeholders at the roundtable events held in December 2020, the impact from the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and requests for extensions, the CMA is extending the deadline for response to the consultation to the end of January 2021.

The CMA invites interested parties to respond to the questions posed in the consultation document by no later than 5pm on Friday 29 January 2021.

The CMA plans to publish the final version of its consumer law guidance later in the Spring of 2021.

The follow-up compliance review across the fertility sector will take place approximately six months after publication of the final guidance.

Draft consumer law guidance and consultation

3 November 2020: The CMA has issued, for consultation, draft consumer law guidance for fertility clinics. The purpose of the guidance is to help providers of fertility treatment to patients in the UK understand and comply with their existing obligations under consumer law.

In addition to the draft guidance and consultation document, the CMA is publishing the outcome of research it commissioned on the experiences of patients who have paid for fertility treatment. The research findings have helped inform the draft guidance.

The CMA invites interested parties to respond to the questions posed in the consultation document no later than 5pm on Tuesday 5 January 2021.

As part of its consultation, the CMA is also planning to hold stakeholder roundtable events in December 2020. The events will be held virtually. To ensure we can accommodate all stakeholders that wish to attend, numbers will be limited to one place per clinic/organisation, based on the order in which they were received. If you are interested in attending one of the roundtables, please email: ConsumerLawIVFTeam@cma.gov.uk by Friday 13 November 2020.

The CMA plans to publish the final version of its consumer law guidance, in March 2021. Alongside this, the CMA will also issue a short guide for IVF patients to help raise awareness of their consumer rights.

17 June 2020: The CMA’s work to develop consumer law guidance for the Fertility Sector in the UK is continuing. The CMA is continuing to speak to stakeholders and to undertake research.

In light of the significant impact the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has had on the Fertility Sector in the UK, the CMA has revised its timetable.

The CMA expects to publish the draft guidance for consultation in November 2020 and to publish the final guidance in March 2021. The stakeholder event scheduled for April 2020, which was cancelled due to COVID-19, will take place later in the year.

The CMA continues to want to hear from you if you have experience of any of the issues we have identified when buying IVF treatment.

Details of your experience can be shared with the CMA by email to: ConsumerLawIVFTeam@cma.gov.uk.

Before doing so, please read more on providing information to us.

9 April 2020: The CMA is aware of the severe impact that Coronavirus (COVID-19) has had on the Fertility Sector in the UK, with clinics directed by the sector regulator to stop fertility treatment by 15 April 2020, until further notice.

The CMA recognises this disruption to IVF services; but considers that its work on developing consumer law guidance for the sector remains important for the protection of consumers and will be continuing its work in this area.

However due to the current crisis the consultation on the guidance will now be released in late 2020.

Summary

7 February 2020: The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is undertaking work to develop guidance for IVF clinics in the UK. Currently, there is no written guidance on consumer protection law for the IVF sector.

The CMA is therefore concerned that clinics might not be aware of their obligations, and so is producing guidance which will cover issues such as:

  • Price transparency: Clinics should present clear and upfront prices for their treatments.
  • Potential mis-selling of treatments: Patients should not be mis-sold ‘add- on’ treatments, which are offered by some clinics and can cost up to £2,500 per cycle.
  • Success rates: Clinics should not mislead patients about how successful their treatments are and should ensure that rates are accurate and up to date on their websites and in advertising.
  • Unfair terms: Terms and conditions should be fair and transparent.

The CMA will be engaging with relevant stakeholders in the sector, undertaking research and working closely with the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), to understand more about whether such practices are taking place, and to develop tailored guidance for the sector.

The CMA expects to consult on the guidance in July, and to publish final guidance later in the year. The CMA will also publish advice for patients.

At this early stage, the CMA has not reached a view as to whether consumer protection law may have been broken. However, if it finds evidence that some clinics’ practices and/or terms are misleading or unfair, it could take enforcement action.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is also looking at the IVF sector and will co-ordinate its work with the CMA and HFEA. The ASA is the UK’s independent regulator of advertising. Its work includes acting on complaints and proactively checking media, to take action against misleading, harmful or offensive advertising, promotional and direct marketing. The ASA will consider all options including the use of an Enforcement Notice to put the sector on notice about the need to comply with the rules.

We want to hear from you

In December 2021 the CMA will begin a review of the sector’s compliance with consumer law. Should we find evidence of non-compliance we will consider whether further action such as enforcement is neccessary.

The CMA wants to hear from you if you have experienced the types of issues covered in the patient guide when buying fertility treatment. If you wish to share your relevant experience with us, please do so by emailing: ConsumerLawIVFTeam@cma.gov.uk

Before doing so, please be aware that the CMA will use any information you provide in performing its statutory functions, and in accordance with the restrictions on disclosure in Part 9 Enterprise Act 2002.

In particular, information you provide to us will be used to provide intelligence that helps inform our compliance review. It may also be used to help us to consider or take enforcement action against IVF fertility clinics, or other businesses active in the fertility sector, should that be appropriate.

Contacts

Assistant Project Director

Debbie Kitcher-Jones (debbie.kitcher-jones@cma.gov.uk)

Project Director

Louise Strong (louise.strong@cma.gov.uk)

Senior Responsible Officer

George Lusty (george.lusty@cma.gov.uk)

Published 7 February 2020
Last updated 10 June 2021 + show all updates
  1. Final guidance published.

  2. Draft consumer law guidance and consultation published.

  3. Case timetable updated.

  4. Update on CMA guidance on consumer law for IVF clinics in the UK.

  5. First published.