How Does Surrogacy Work in the UK? – Law, Cost & FAQs

Surrogacy is legal in the United Kingdom as established in the Surrogacy Arrangements Act 1985. The problem that many British intended parents encounter when they opt for this technique is that, under UK law, the surrogate mother is considered the legal mother in all terms. To become the legal parents, you must apply for a parental order, a process that can become legally complicated.

As for the cost, you should know that there is no NHS funding for surrogacy arrangements. Although it is generally said to cost about £15,000, the actual price can be higher based on the needs of each family, as we will explain below.

The various sections of this article are assembled in the following table of contents.

Surrogacy is legal in the UK in accordance with the provisions included in the Surrogacy Arrangements Act 1985. However, it is still a complicated process from the legal perspective due to the lack of detailed legislation.

Although surrogacy arrangements are permitted under UK law, intended parents (IPs) should keep in mind that the surrogate will be the legal mother of the child following birth. In other words, she will have the right to keep the child, even if they are not genetically linked.

Surrogacy contracts are not enforced by UK law, that is, they are considered non-binding. There is no exception to this, even if you and the surrogate have signed it and you have paid for the surrogate’s expenses.

The good news is that parenthood can be transferred from the surrogate and her husband (if any) to the intended parents by parental order or adoption. You can learn more about the requirements to apply for a parental order below.

These is a general overview of how surrogacy works in the UK. In the following sections, you shall find a summary of the Surrogacy Arrangements Act 1985 for you to better understand its provisions.

Basic concepts

According to the Surrogacy Arrangements Act 1985, a woman will be considered a surrogate mother if she carries a child in pursuance of an arrangement that is done:

  1. Before she begins to carry the child
  2. With the purpose of handing over the child born as a result

On the other hand, by surrogacy arrangement we should understand any arrangement whereby a woman agrees to carry someone else’s child in pursuance of it.

Commercial surrogacy

The Surrogacy Arrangements Act is clear on this question: negotiating surrogacy arrangements on a commercial basis is not permitted. No person shall do any of the following acts in the UK in relation to a surrogacy arrangement:

  • Initiate negotiations with a view to establishing a surrogacy arrangement
  • Take part in any negotiations which purpose is to establish a surrogacy arrangement
  • Offer or agree to negotiate with the purpose of establishing a surrogacy arrangement
  • Compile information with a view to negotiating a surrogacy arrangement

Any person who fails to accomplish with these provisions is guilty of an offence. However, it is not considered an offence when it is done by a woman willing to become a surrogate or a person who is looking for a surrogate to carry a child for him or her.

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The law clearly states that advertisements of women offering themselves as potential “wombs for rent” or published by commissioning parents offering women the chance to become their surrogate mother are forbidden, and doing so is considered a criminal offence.

This section applies to newspapers, magazines, or any other media published in the UK that contains advertisements of this kind, too. Publishers, proprietors, or editors of the communication medium would be considered guilty of an offence.

This requirement, however, does not apply when the person who distributes the advertisement is a member of a non-profit making body, even if it is done on a commercial basis.

First and foremost, it should be clear that, under UK law, the surrogate will be considered the legal mother of the child. As in many other countries, the woman who gives birth is treated as the legal mother.

Those countries where the woman who gives birth is treated as the legal mother apply the Roman-law principle mater semper certa est, which means the mother is always certain. In short, it means that the mother of a child is always known.

Moreover, surrogacy contracts are not enforced by law, even if you have signed deal with your surrogate. However, the good news is that the British law allows parenthood to be transferred through a parental order or by adopting the child born as a result, depending on the case.

The marital status of the surrogate also matters. These are the two possible scenarios:

Married or in a civil relationship
Her husband will be considered the child’s legal father as well, unless the legal rights are transferred to someone else through a parental order or adoption, or if he has not given his permission to his wife or civil partner.
Unmarried or not in a civil relationship
The child born as a result will have no legal father or second parent.

In either case, you must apply for a parental order if you use a surrogate to have a child. This is the only possible way to transfer legal rights from the birth mother to you and your partner. Continue reading to learn how to apply for one.

Applying for a parental order

For a parental order to be applied for, you must be genetically related to the child, and in a relationship where you are either married, civil partners, or living as partners. This means that you cannot apply for a parental order if you are a single person.

Also, the child must be living with you and your must be residing permanently in the UK, Channel Islands, or Isle of Man.

The requirements and process explained herein apply only to England and Wales. The surrogacy process works differently in Scotland and Northern Island.

To apply for it, the first thing to do is fill in a «C51 application form for a parental order», which costs £215. Once completed, you have to give it to a family proceedings court, along with the child’s full birth certificate.

You only have 6 months to do this after the child’s birth. After this period of time, you will not be allowed to apply for a parental order.

After that, the court will issue you a document called «C52 acknowledgement form» and set a date for the hearing. This document must be given to the child’s legal parent at that moment, that is, the surrogate. She and her partner, if any, must agree to the parental order in writing.

Child adoption

If neither you or your spouse/partner are related to the child born as a result of the surrogacy arrangement, the only option for you to become the legal parents is an adoption order. In such case, a registered adoption agency must be involved in your surrogacy journey.

To adopt a child in the UK, firstly it is important to have the consent of the birth parents of the child. Secondly, you may be able to adopt as long as you are either:

  • Single
  • Married
  • Unmarried same-sex couple
  • Unmarried opposite-sex couple
  • In a civil relationship
  • The partner of the child’s parent

Even though it is not required that you are a British citizen to adopt a child, you (or your partner, in case you are a couple) must have a fixed and permanent residence in the UK (including Channel Islands and Isle of Man), or have lived in the country for at least 1 year before you start the application process.

How much does it cost?

Actually, it is considerably complicated to calculate the overall cost of a surrogacy arrangement in the UK, as it depends on the payments you agree to make to your surrogate in advance. The law, as explained above, does not allow commercial surrogacy arrangements to be made.

There is a common misconception that £15,000 is the fixed amount to be paid for reasonable expenses to the surrogate. However, there is no actual amount set by law and what is considered reasonable depends on a case-by-case basis. In any case, the following are the general expenses that you can expect to reimburse your surrogate for:

  • Travel costs
  • Maternity clothes
  • Treatment costs
  • Childcare/pregnancy costs
  • Loss of earnings (for her and her partner)

Aside from that, it should be clear that, generally speaking, there is no NHS funding available for surrogacy arrangements, which means that is must be privately funded. So, in addition to the surrogate’s expenses, you should add the fertility clinics costs and the court fee of £215.

It is important to remark that paying your surrogate for reasonable expenses is not illegal under UK law. However, if the court considers that what you have paid is excessive, they will have to authorise the payments to issue a parental order. To have this aspect under control, you are strongly recommended to seek legal advice.

Surrogacy is the most challenging of all fertility treatments. For this reason, it's crucial that you rely on well-versed professionals. If you are looking for trustworthy agencies, The Calculator will show you destination countries where your family type is permitted, and provide you with a detailed cost estimate. Moreover, our specialists will evaluate your case in particular in order to recommend you those clinics that best fit your needs, and meet our rigorous selection criteria. We have 10 years' experience behind us.

FAQs from users

How easy is surrogacy in the UK?

Actually, surrogacy is not easy in the United Kingdom. The fact that the law does not enforce surrogacy agreements, along with the fact that the surrogate will be considered the legal mother regardless of whether you have signed deal with her complicates the process to a large extent.

The key step lies in the application for a parental order within 6 months after the birth: skipping this crucial step would mean that you will not ever be considered the legal parents.

No, it isn’t. The Surrogacy Arrangements Act 1985 explains that negotiating or pretending to do so the conditions of a surrogacy arrangements is forbidden, and anyone who attempts to do so will be considered guilty of an offence. However, it is not illegal to pay your surrogate to reasonable expenses, including travel costs, maternity clothes, etc.

Can a woman become a surrogate for a family member in the UK?

Yes, it is possible in the UK. The main advantage is that there is already trust between you. If you prefer to use someone you don’t know, you should note that fertility clinics aren’t allowed do find someone for you. In such case, you’ll need to do your search through a non-profit organisation.

How much does a surrogate get paid in the UK?

Commercial surrogacy is illegal, that is, earning money through surrogacy. However, intended parents can pay the surrogate for any reasonable expenses incurred during the process. These expenses typically cost between £7,000 and £15,000.

Can a single man have a surrogate baby in the UK?

Yes, but the only possible way to obtain legal parentage would be by means of an adoption order. To apply for a parental order, it is a requirement to be married or in a civil relationship. Check the requirements for adopting a child in the UK above.

What are the average success rates for gestational surrogacy in the UK?

It is very complicated to provide figures relating to the success rates of gestational surrogacy arrangements in the United Kingdom. Keep in mind that surrogacy involves several parties and procedures, including the surrogate’s ability to become pregnant, egg quality (especially if the intended mother uses her own eggs), the success of IVF, and sperm quality, among others.

Suggested for you

Surrogacy abroad is becoming an increasingly popular option among British intended parents who have no alternative but to use a surrogate to start their family. If you want to learn more about the potential destination countries that would fit your needs, click here: International Surrogacy Guide.

Also, you can learn more about surrogacy, including how it works and the main aspects surrounding it, here: What Is Surrogacy & How Does It Work?

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