Surrogacy in the UK
Surrogacy is legal in the UK, but the law restricts how things work in practice.
UK surrogacy law: surrogacy services
The Surrogacy Arrangements Act 1985 makes it illegal for third parties to match parents and surrogate mothers in the UK, unless they are non-profit making organisations. This means that historically most UK surrogacy matching services have been offered through volunteer organisations (which are not regulated in any way). Non-profit making surrogacy agencies also have to take care to follow the law, as there are some detailed rules setting out what they can and cannot do.
It is a criminal offence (carrying a penalty of imprisonment) for a commercial organisation to broker a surrogacy arrangement in the UK. The offence covers keeping lists of intended parents or surrogates, matching them, or negotiating surrogacy agreements and applies to any activity carried out in the UK, no matter where the organisation is based. For more information, read the High Court's decision in J v G (2013).
UK surrogacy law for intended parents
Under UK law surrogacy agreements are unenforceable; that means that parents and surrogates cannot enter into legally-binding surrogacy agreements in the UK. However, this does not necessarily mean that, if a surrogate mother changes her mind (which happens incredibly rarely in practice), the intended parents have no possible remedy. Find out more about surrogacy disputes and how UK law deals with them.
It is a common misconception that it is illegal to pay a surrogate mother more than her 'reasonable expenses' in the UK. In fact, neither surrogates nor intended parents commit any kind of offence no matter how much they pay (whether to a surrogate in the UK or abroad). However, when the intended parents apply to the family court for a parental order, the court will consider the payments made. If more than reasonable expenses has been paid (to the surrogate and to any agency involved), then the court will need to decide whether to 'authorise' this retrospectively. You can find out more about this here.
Fertility treatment for surrogacy in the UK
If those involved in a surrogacy arrangement have fertility treatment at a UK clinic to conceive, their treatment is regulated by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. The HFEA sets out how fertility clinics should deal with surrogacy cases, including rules on quarantining sperm or embryos, counselling before treatment, and the completion of consent forms (which can affect who the legal parents of a child are). Find out more about the duties of UK fertility clinics when dealing with surrogacy treatment.
UK surrogacy law: advertising offences
It is a criminal offence in the UK to advertise that you are:
- Looking for a surrogate mother
- Willing to act as a surrogate mother
- A third party willing to facilitate the making of a surrogacy arrangement (although this last offence does not apply to non profit making organisations).
The law catches adverts online worldwide as well as in print, if they are placed by someone in the UK and can be viewed in the UK. They also catch the publishers of adverts in the UK.
Modern surrogacy in the UK - The Review (journal) article, September 2009
Your surrogate will keep the baby, won't she? - Infertility Network UK magazine, winter 2011