How much can a UK surrogate get paid?
In the UK, which is often said to have an ‘altruistic’ surrogacy framework, surrogates typically receive £12,000 to £20,000 as expenses (which is less than in the USA, where surrogacy is commercialised and surrogates typically receive compensation of $30,000 to $60,000).
The payments made to a surrogate are just one part of the overall costs of surrogacy in the UK.
Is it illegal for a UK surrogate to be paid more than expenses?
No, it is not illegal for a surrogate to receive more than expenses in the UK. It is illegal for an intermediary to profit from arranging surrogacy in the UK but no criminal offence applies to surrogates or intended parents, who can agree whatever they wish about payments without breaking the law.
However, there is some unravelling to do and that is where there can be some murkiness. The intended parents need to obtain a parental order from the family court to become their child’s legal parents after the birth. The family court is supposed to check, as part of this process, that no more than ‘reasonable expenses’ has been paid, although the court can also agree to retrospectively authorise any payments of more than expenses. The court’s paramount consideration is always the child’s best interests and in practice the family court takes a flexible approach. No parental order has ever been refused because too much was paid.
What qualifies as a ‘reasonable expense’ for UK surrogacy?
There is no legal definition of what constitutes a reasonable expense, and different UK surrogacy organisations and independent surrogacy groups have adopted their own policies.
As the Law Commission recently highlighted in its consultation document, a variety of approaches is taken to UK surrogacy expenses in practice. Across 52 Family Court files reviewed by the Law Commission in 2019, the median average of payments to UK surrogates was £14,795, but with a big range (from £470 at the lowest to more than £20,000 in 10% of cases). The Law Commission highlighted that in ‘very few’ cases had a detailed itemised breakdown of expenses been provided and there were ‘frequent’ examples of a round figure (‘for example £15,000’) being pre-agreed and paid in monthly instalments. The Law Commission also listed out all the items which had been claimed as expenses where a breakdown had been given, and these included ‘flat fees’ for embryo transfers/inseminations, multiple births and surgical procedures, post-birth holidays and gifts. Notwithstanding this broad range of experience, all the amounts paid had been accepted by the family court within the current legal framework.
How to approach UK surrogacy expenses
There are, broadly speaking, three different practical approaches to UK surrogacy expenses (although it is possible to use a combination of them):
Reimbursement as you go
Some surrogacy teams (often those between friends or family members) deal with expenses by specifically reimbursing actual expenses as they arise. Doing things in this way means that you can provide a clear breakdown of what you have paid later. However, it can be awkward to manage in practice, since the surrogate will need to ask for money each time she needs something. Some teams get around this by opening a joint bank account or providing the surrogate with a credit card she can use. Some teams take this approach to expenses in just the pre-conception stage.
Estimating expenses in advance
Some surrogates calculate in advance what they expect their overall expenses to be, and then agree a figure with their intended parents based on that estimate. To do this, the team will need to be clear about what is included and how it has been quantified. The agreed overall amount can then be paid evenly over the surrogacy process or however is agreed. Some teams agree that the figure can be varied if unexpected expenses arise further down the line (for example if the surrogate is put on extended bed rest and cannot work as long as she initially expected). It is important for everyone to be clear about what is included and what could change.
Agreeing a reasonable figure
Other UK surrogacy teams agree an overall figure in a slightly more general way, usually within a customary bracket of £12,000 to £20,000. The figure agreed for expenses may not be based on a clear breakdown, and may in reality include a top up or some acknowledgment of the inconvenience experienced by the surrogate and her family as well as her out of pocket costs. As shown by the Law Commission’s findings, this approach is common in UK surrogacy and is routinely accepted by the family court. The agreed amount can be paid evenly over the surrogacy process or however is agreed. Sometimes teams may also agree to pay for any unexpected expenses which arise further down the line in addition so it is important for everyone to be clear about what is and is not included in the agreed amount.
How are state benefits affected?
For surrogates who receive means-tested state benefits, it is important to be clear about whether benefits might be affected by any expenses received. We would always recommend surrogates are upfront with their benefits office. Surrogates receiving means-tested benefits may wish to take a narrower approach to expenses than is required for the parental order process so that they can clearly justify what they have received as being no more than out of pocket expenses.
How Brilliant Beginnings approaches expenses
At Brilliant Beginnings we support surrogate choice. We help our surrogates work through their likely costs to make sure they are never left out of pocket, provide clear information about the options around expenses, and help them approach expenses in whatever way feels right for them and their families. We reflect these choices within our matching process, to make sure surrogates are matched with intended parents who are aligned with their expectations and have an appropriate budget.
After match, we support our surrogacy teams to have clear and honest decisions about how the finances will work in practice. Discussion around money can feel awkward so we walk you through it step by step to make it as easy as possible. We give both surrogates and intended parents independent legal advice to ensure everyone is absolutely clear about the legal implications of whatever you agree. We also help you to put what you have agreed in writing, making sure you are clear not just about how much is being paid but also about the detail of how things will be managed in practice, for example when and how payments will be made and what happens if there is a miscarriage or early birth.