Ahpra’s goal is to ensure advertising about regulated health services is done responsibly in order to keep the public safe from unlawful advertising and to help the public to make informed decisions about their healthcare.
The advertising requirements and the action that may be taken for unlawful advertising, including penalties are set out in the National Law and explained in the Guidelines for advertising a regulated health service. More information about Advertising and the law is on our website.
National Boards and Ahpra have developed the Advertising compliance and enforcement strategy for the National Scheme (the strategy) to make it clear to advertisers, the public and other stakeholders what our advertising compliance and enforcement approach is and what they can expect from us.
The strategy includes information about:
Download the Advertising compliance and enforcement strategy for the National Scheme
Advertisers are responsible for ensuring that their advertising is compliant. We aim to make this as easy as possible through our education and engagement resources.
Advertisers are legally required to follow the advertising requirements. This strategy sets out how we aim to make sure advertisers comply with the advertising rules that apply to them.
Enforcement is the action we taken when we identify an advertiser is not compliant with the advertising requirements, e.g. investigation, disciplinary action, prosecution.
The strategy applies to anyone who advertises a regulated health service1 which can include:
The person or entity who controls part or all of the advertising (i.e. who authorises the content) is considered the advertiser and is responsible for compliance with the advertising requirements.
Advertisers must check any content developed by others on their behalf.
We report on the achievements of the strategy in the annual report and in online news items and newsletters for practitioners.
We also raise awareness of breaches of the advertising rules by reporting on advertising cases heard by courts and tribunals.
Evaluation is a core part of our strategy and we will continue to look for innovative ways to refine and improve our approach. The National Boards completed an evaluation of the strategy in 2020 summarised in this Evaluation snapshot (80 KB, PDF).
The revised strategy took effect on 14 December 2020.
1. A regulated health service is a service provided by, or usually provided by a registered health practitioner.
The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (Ahpra) and National Boards regulate health practitioners in
Australia through the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme (the National Scheme).
Our primary role is public protection and we aim to do this through a risk-based approach to regulation, taking
action proportionate to the risks to public health and safety we have identified.
Our goal is to ensure advertising about regulated health services is done responsibly to keep the public safe from
unlawful advertising and to help the public make informed decisions about their healthcare. Unlawful advertising
may compromise the healthcare choices of the public.
This strategy explains:
This strategy was originally published in 2017 and updated in 2020 to reflect changes following completion of the
initial review and evaluation.
The National Scheme regulates 16 health profession groups across Australia with more than 800,000 registered
practitioners and 190,000 registered students.
There is a National Board for each health profession group that is part of the National Scheme, and the 15 National
Boards work in partnership with Ahpra.
This infographic shows the objectives of the National Scheme and actions that support them.
* Nationally, except in NSW and Qld where this is managed by the Health Professional Councils Authority and
the 15 health professional councils, and the Office of the Ombudsman, respectively.
The regulated professions are:
Our work is governed by the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law, as in force in each state and territory
(the National Law). Our responsibilities include registering practitioners and students, setting standards, and
dealing with complaints.
Section 133 of the National Law makes it a criminal offence for any person (including registered health
practitioners) to advertise a regulated health service, or a business that provides a regulated health service, in a
A regulated health service is a service provided by, or usually provided by, a health practitioner (as defined in the
National Law). The definition of a regulated health service is broad and applies to public and private services. It is
not limited to direct clinical services.
All National Boards have published Guidelines for advertising a regulated health service (the advertising
guidelines) that explain the legal obligations of advertisers under the National Law. These apply to any person or
business advertising a regulated health service.
We will continue to publish additional information and resources on the Ahpra website to help all advertisers
understand their obligations under the National Law, and their requirements for responsible advertising of a
regulated health service to the public.
The maximum penalty for each advertising offence is $5,000 for an individual and $10,000 for a body corporate.
These penalties would apply for one-off instances of unlawful advertising, however ongoing breaches may be
treated as separate offences, increasing the potential deterrent effect of the penalties.
Amendments to the National Law in 2019 introduced increases to penalties in relation to unlawful use of a
protected title in all states and territories other than Western Australia. For an individual, there may be a financial
penalty of up to $60,000 per offence, imprisonment of up to three years per offence or both, and for a body
corporate a financial penalty of up to $120,000 per offence may apply.
However, if a registered health practitioner breaches the advertising offence provisions of the National Law
there are other enforcement approaches available. A breach of the advertising offence provisions by a registered
practitioner is also a breach of the National Board’s advertising guidelines and code of conduct, so the
practitioner’s conduct is grounds for disciplinary action in relation to their registration. This is a core aspect of our
Our regulatory work on advertising compliance includes acting on complaints, educating practitioners and
other advertisers about what is and is not acceptable and taking action against unlawful, misleading or harmful
advertising in the best interests of consumers of regulated health services. We also engage regularly with other
regulators who are responsible for protecting consumers such as the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA)
and Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).
Our goal is to ensure advertising about regulated health services is done responsibly to keep the public safe from
This goal includes that the advertising of regulated health services complies with the National Law, so the public
has access to clear and correct information to help them make informed choices about their healthcare.
This strategy sets out how we aim to achieve advertising compliance, including how we will use the range of
regulatory tools we have available. Publishing this strategy makes it clear what our approach is and what to
expect from us.
Our approach is evolving. We have included ongoing evaluation as a core part of our strategy, and we will
continue to look for ways to refine and improve our approach.
Our Regulatory principles1 underpin all our work regulating Australia’s health practitioners in the public interest.
These principles shape our thinking about regulatory decision-making and encourage a responsive, risk-based
approach to regulation.
Informed by our regulatory principles, the key principles that support our strategy are:
We are a risk-based regulator. Applying a risk-based approach to advertising compliance and enforcement means
we take different actions depending on the level of risk identified and what action is likely to have the most
impact in the circumstances.
We will focus our resources on the highest risk matters and those with most benefit to the public, recognising
that we have finite resources.
Our risk-based approach is also about being responsive. Our strategy is flexible so we can respond to new or
different types of risks, new or emerging ways to advertise, and evolving public expectations.
1. The Regulatory principles for the National Scheme are currently being reviewed and this text will be updated when the revised version is
Effective compliance and enforcement strategies help support voluntary compliance and build community
confidence in regulation. Such strategies promote evidence-based, well thought out and integrated approaches
to achieve improved compliance behaviour.
In developing and evaluating this strategy we considered our work in reviewing the advertising guidelines and
other resources explaining the advertising rules, our data and experience related to receiving complaints about
advertising, and other advertising compliance work.
We also reviewed the approaches of other regulators and have drawn on feedback from stakeholders. Our
ongoing work with consumers to gain a better understanding of their experience of healthcare advertising is
important and will help us design interventions that support good outcomes for consumers.
There are many factors that influence whether registered health practitioners and other advertisers comply
with the advertising provisions under the National Law. These include their professional experience, knowledge
of the advertising requirements, how effectively we communicate with them about their responsibilities, and
professional norms, practices and expectations within the professions. There are also other general factors,
including social and financial drivers.
In developing our approach, we have considered these factors that influence compliance behaviour, including
advertiser attitudes to compliance. This helps us identify the most appropriate and targeted compliance and
enforcement strategies to target different groups of advertisers.
Regulatory research has developed a compliance pyramid which is a well-established model for considering
compliance attitudes and developing targeted strategies.2 A key element of this model is acknowledging that
most people are willing or trying to do the right thing.
We know that most health practitioners want to comply with their professional obligations, and most people
(including advertisers who are not registered health practitioners) want to comply with the law. The focus of our
strategy is to make compliance easier for those who are willing to do the right thing. We recognise some people
need more help than others to comply, and we will target activities to help this group achieve compliance.
We also recognise that there are a small number of people, both practitioners and other advertisers, who will
need more incentives to comply. This is where we target our enforcement action.
All complaints that raise concerns about alleged criminal offences under the National Law are risk assessed. The
issues considered when assessing risk include the offence type and risk (such as allegations of potential or actual
Types of matters we have identified as high risk (critical or major) include advertising practices that:
We will periodically review and update this list as needed.
Education and engagement are regulatory tools that have been shown to be key parts of an effective strategy in
achieving behaviour change.
We will focus resources on these activities as we think these are the best way to encourage and support
compliance among the majority of advertisers who want to advertise responsibly.
Education and engagement activities we will carry out to support compliance include:
The strategy outlines our general approach to compliance and enforcement. We will respond to all complaints
about advertising and use a range of regulatory tools to address non-compliant advertising.
We have refined our communication to be more concise and targeted and we are progressively developing
further materials to help advertisers to comply, including educational resources and examples of acceptable and
Compliance and enforcement action will escalate depending on the ongoing assessment of risk and the response
of the advertiser. Depending on patterns of advertising, there may be a need for an escalated approach on
specific topics or in particular professions.
In future, we will publish summaries of compliance and enforcement action taken.
Compliance and enforcement tools available under the National Law include the power to:
For alleged advertising breaches by an advertiser who has not received a complaint about their advertising
before and where the breach is assessed as low risk, we will write to advertisers to advise that their advertising is
non-compliant and provide resources to help them comply with the National Law.
We will provide a timeframe for the non-compliant advertising to be amended, and will advise how and whether
compliance will be checked, such as an audit. We expect that many advertisers will want to change their
advertising once they are made aware of non-compliance and the range of possible consequences.
Matters assessed as low risk but where the advertiser has a history of non-compliant advertising will be managed
according to the process for medium risk and repeated non-compliance.
For alleged advertising breaches which are assessed as medium risk we will write to advertisers to advise that
their advertising is non-compliant and provide resources to help them comply with the National Law.
Following the initial correspondence to advertisers, compliance will be checked by targeted audits.
Where continuing non-compliance by a practitioner is identified, either because a practitioner with a medium-risk
breach has not corrected their advertising or the practitioner has a history of non-compliant advertising
(including low-risk breaches), the practitioner will receive a show cause letter proposing to impose conditions on
their registration restricting the practitioner’s ability to advertise their services, and providing a further timeframe
to amend their advertising.
If the practitioner’s advertising is not rectified, the conditions will be imposed and before they are removed the
practitioner will need to demonstrate their understanding of the advertising requirements. Enforcement action
will escalate depending on the ongoing assessment of risk and whether the practitioner is willing to comply.
Continued non-compliance after the imposition of conditions may result in referral to a tribunal.
Certain high-risk matters will be identified as suitable for prosecution or disciplinary action from the outset.
When considering breaches on the prohibition of using testimonials in advertising regulated health services,
we will focus our compliance and enforcement action on testimonials which involve greater risk. These are
testimonials that also breach another element of section 133 of the National Law, because they are false,
misleading or deceptive, offer a gift or inducement without stating the terms and conditions, create an
unreasonable expectation of beneficial treatment or encourage the unnecessary use of health services. These
testimonials will be subject to the compliance and enforcement approach outlined in section 2d. However, we
may take a different approach to testimonials which involve very low or negligible risk to the public, for example,
by providing or publishing general advice rather than addressing individual issues.
This second version of the strategy includes the staged implementation of a new proactive approach to
advertising compliance. We will ask registered health practitioners to declare that, if they advertise, their
advertising meets the National Law’s advertising requirements. We will conduct audits to check practitioner
compliance with these declarations and advertising requirements. The audit sample will be sufficient to generalise
the outcomes to the entire profession and will enable Ahpra to advise the National Boards of the overall
advertising and non-compliance rates for their profession. This will also help in determining what profession-wide
education interventions would be effective as a compliance mechanism.
2. Ayres I, Braithwaite J. 2 Responsive regulation: transcending the deregulation debate. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.
Our strategy involves a mix of approaches, some of which are tried and tested, and some that we are piloting. We
use an evaluation framework to check whether what we are doing is improving advertising compliance, and to
make sure our strategy remains contemporary and responsive.
We report on the achievements of the strategy annually, and also look at other ways to report on our progress,
including in online news items and newsletters for practitioners.
The first review of the strategy occurred two years after its initial implementation. Future reviews of the strategy
will occur as required to check whether the objectives of the strategy are being met.
We will review and update supporting documents as the strategy is implemented, this includes piloting new
approaches and implementing the evaluation framework.