The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is a great supplement to a travel insurance policy if you fall ill or injured abroad.
It ensures that travellers to EU, EEC countries as well as Switzerland can get the same basic state medical care as a native. The cards are designed to be used in conjunction with travel insurance, which covers additional costs, including hospital care, drugs and repatriation fees. Some travel insurance agreements require travellers to have an EHIC, which is no bad idea.
EHICs are freely available from the NHS. But some sites charging upwards of £20 for them. One site, apply-ehic.org, charges £23.50 for its services, which include validating applications and sending them on to the NHS. It claims that “there is only one option that guarantees delivery of your card within a very short period of time. You may apply directly with us from the comfort of your home without any worry of rejection or unnecessary delays.”
Providing a customer completes the simple application form accurately, this cannot be the swiftest route to getting an EHIC as the website is unable to issue a card and must pass applications on to the NHS.
If the customer provides conflicting information the site can query this, but it cannot spot consistent errors, such as the wrong National Insurance number being entered because it has no access to NHS records.
Another site, getaehic.org.uk, states that its service accepts applications 24 hours a day, seven days a week, “unlike the NHS, which is open for business less than 16 hours a day and suffers from regular down time, particularly at the weekend.”
The NHS told us that its online application service is only unavailable between two and four o’clock on Friday mornings, while its voice automated telephone system is operational from 6am to 1am daily. An NHS spokesperson said: “The quickest, cheapest and most-efficient way for UK customers to get a free EHIC card is to apply through the official application portal.”
Other sites use logos on their websites which are copyrighted or trade under names that may lead casual web surfers to conclude that they are the official provider of these cards. Two sites, nhs-direct.org.uk and nhs-e111-ehic.org.uk, have an URL that could result in visitors believing they are on an official NHS site.
Additionally, nhs-e111-ehic.org.uk features the European Union emblem on its homepage. Unauthorised use of the EU logo would be a breach of European law as well as national legislation, such as the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, which prohibit firms from using trust marks, quality marks or their equivalent without authorisation.
An EU spokesperson said: “The European institutions are intellectual property holders of this logo. The Commission has written to sites asking them to desist from using the EU emblem in an unauthorised manner and will continue to do so if new cases come to light. If necessary it will take further action."
The sites cited above declined to comment.