It’s a new year and a new focus for the consumer watchdogs.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) and the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) are turning their attention to the self-funded IVF industry, to address what they see as a potential risk area for consumers.
Whilst the CMA is keen to stress that it is not aware of any particular instances of malpractice, it is concerned that there is currently no written guidance on consumer protection laws in place for fertility clinics and that, consequently, the sector may be unaware of its obligations to consumers. It is aiming to put things right by publishing new guidance this year.
As may be expected, the CMA is focusing on issues such as price transparency, potential mis-selling, claimed success rates and unfair terms generally. The ASA is separately looking at how these services are advertised to consumers, including on clinics’ own websites. The regulators are also working closely with the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), which is currently in the process of writing to clinics with information aimed at improving consumer awareness.
According to the HFEA, the self-funded IVF sector is worth a staggering £320 million per year in the UK and continues to grow at around 3% annually, driven by a multitude of complex factors. Given the size of the market, the sensitive nature of the services and the potential vulnerability of its users, it is perhaps surprising that the sector has only just caught the eye of the regulators.
The CMA guidance is expected to be ready for consultation in July, with the final guidance to come later in the year.
The CMA is developing guidance for IVF clinics in the UK to ensure that they understand their obligations under consumer law.