October 24, 2012 3:22 PM

An investigation by the Office of Fair Trading into misleading websites that charge a fee for applications for the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) 'appears to confirm that the sites are lawful.'

EHIC European Health Insurance Card

Lib Dem MEP Phil Bennion said the news, in a letter to him from new Tory Health Minister Anna Soubry, was 'extremely disappointing.'

The West Midlands Euro MP wrote to Ministers after receiving a complaint from a constituent furious that he had been tricked into paying for an EHIC card, which gives travellers free health care in other EU countries.

The cards are available free from the NHS but media reports claim up to one in seven people renewing them use websites which charge up to £20 for carrying out the application.

Commenting, Phil Bennion MEP said:

"The EU cannot permit a system where public service websites are duplicated unofficially by companies charging fees for services which are free.

"If you use internet search engines to look up applying for an EHIC, these private sites often have a more prominent position on the results page than the official one.

"Many of these private sites are in my view misleading. It might be legal but in effect people unused to the internet are being tricked into paying a fee when they don't need to.

"The true nature of the service offered and the fact that EHIC cards are free is only explained if you click onto another section.

"My constituent said he felt he was dealing with 'a bunch of con-artists' and I think he is right.

"The OFT has been investigating after widespread concern. It is extremely disappointing to hear from the Minister in her letter that this recent investigation has apparently found that no UK law is being broken.

"We must close this loophole. I have also written to the European Commissioner Michel Barnier and last week put down a Parliamentary Question on the issue.

"I asked if the Commission has evidence that other countries are facing this problem and what can be done to improve communications about the EHIC card and stop these misleading charges.

"I am pleased that at the end of her letter the Minister assures me that the coalition government will also now approach the European Commission to establish what can be done at EU level. We have to stop people being tricked."