IVF clinics that lie about success rates could be taken to court by couples, as the first legal guidance for fertility treatment is published.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), the competition regulator, drew up the groundbreaking guidance with the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA).
It warns that clinics could face enforcement action if they are unclear about how successful fertility treatment may be, or if they fail to make costs of different treatments clear to customers.
The document also sets out the legal obligation of clinics to treat people fairly and to help IVF patients understand their consumer rights.
If the CMA finds that fertility clinics have broken any laws in how they advertise their treatments, couples could take them to court and get compensation.
Louise Strong, consumer director at the CMA, said: "Buying fertility treatment is a big decision – it can be complicated, stressful and very expensive, with no guarantee of success. All patients deserve to have the information they need to make the right choices for them and be treated fairly.
"Our guidance should help clinics understand their legal obligations. In six months, we will be reviewing compliance in the sector and we will be ready to take enforcement action if businesses are breaking the law."
Clinics must provide the information that patients need so they can make a genuine comparison of clinics’ prices and success rates.
They must also ensure they do not mis-sell treatments, such as "add-ons" – optional extras offered by some clinics that can cost up to £2,500 per cycle.
Last February, the CMA raised concerns about some fertility clinics’ practices, such as providing unclear price information and advertising misleading success rates. It also identified a general lack of awareness that consumer law applies in the sector.
HFEA chairwoman Julia Chain said: "As the fertility regulator, we have long been concerned about how some clinics offer their services, but our regulatory powers do not allow us to tackle the commercial aspects of the modern fertility market, where most patients pay for their own treatment.
"We welcome the opportunity to work with the CMA and ASA to develop this new guidance in this unique area of healthcare. This is a major step forward for fertility patients as it provides added protection by ensuring that all clinics adhere to consumer and advertising law in addition to our regulatory requirements.
"By working together with other regulators, we can combine our powers to provide added protection in an evolving, competitive and commercial healthcare market."
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