MPs and consumer campaigners are calling on the health secretary to clamp down on PCR test firms over-charging amid stricter restrictions on international travel.
All arrivals into the UK have been required to take a PCR test since November 30, and since then the government has further tightened travel rules further by insisting on pre-departure tests in destinations for all those travelling to the UK.
PCR tests had been a requirement for all arrivals to the UK up until October 24, when the government allowed cheaper lateral flow antigen tests as proof of Covid status, to the relief of the travel industry which had long said the more expensive PCR tests were putting people off booking.
The government has said its insistence on PCR tests is because they can be genomic-sequenced in order to test for variants, unlike rapid tests. However, transport select committee chairman Huw Merriman pointed out in the summer that only about 5% of PCR tests had been sequenced.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) wrote to 25 private travel testing firms last week warning them to review their terms and conditions and practices or risk enforcement action.
Some firms are offering tests for as little as 30p to get to the top of the list of providers for passengers looking to book a post-arrival PCR test. After clicking the link on the government website to book a test with the firm, however, the 30p test offered by a company called 0044 Covid Test was unavailable and the next cheapest cost £59, almost 200 times as expensive, according to the Times.
After the new rules were introduced last week health secretary Sajid Javid told MPs that companies who broke the rules would be “delisted”.
Sir Graham Brady, who chairs the 1922 backbench group of Tory MPs, told the newspaper: “With these new testing requirements being introduced it is essential that the government acts quickly to establish the credibility and reliability of the companies involved. Passengers deserve better than the testing chaos that was experienced in the summer.”
And Rory Boland, travel editor of consumer group Which? told the Times: “The government must take steps to properly regulate the marketplace and implement the Competition and Markets Authority recommendations so that passengers can have confidence that they’re booking with a provider they can trust.”
The DHSC said it was working with the UK Health Security Agency to monitor the government’s list of approved providers.
Javid instructed the CMA to investigate “cowboy” PCR testing firms’ practices in August amid concerns about prices being charged, the quality of service and customers’ rights when things go wrong. In September the CMA recommended “significantly improving the basic standards to qualify for inclusion and remaining on” the gov.uk list of approved providers. Passengers are only permitted to book travel from companies on the list.