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Watchdog tells PCR test firms: ‘Get on right side of the law’

The competition watchdog has uncovered a range of ‘harmful conduct’ by PCR test firms, such as ‘bait’ advertising and ‘drip pricing’, as part of its rapid review.

‘Bait’ advertising attracts consumers by advertising cheap PCR tests – including on gov.uk – which are only actually available in very small quantities or are not available at all.

‘Drip pricing’ involves advertising up-front prices which do not include additional charges that everyone must pay.

Other problems identified include failing to disclose important caveats upfront – such as the fact that consumers must attend a specific venue at a specific time – and issues with supply, refunds and cancellations.

The Competition and Markets Authority announced a rapid review into the testing market earlier this month after widespread complaints from the travel trade and consumers about high costs and poor service from Covid test providers.


The competition regulator has now sent an open letter to PCR Covid-19 test providers outlining the harmful practices it has found and warning providers not to breach consumer protection law.

If providers mislead customers or treat them unfairly, they could face enforcement action from the CMA or Trading Standards, said the letter.

The letter also instructs PCR test providers to “immediately review their practices and policies to make sure they are in line with the requirements of consumer law and to make any changes where necessary”.

Sarah Cardell, CMA general counsel, said: “PCR test providers should be in no doubt that they need to get on the right side of the law. If they don’t, they risk enforcement action.

“Our advice today will also help people by setting out exactly what they should expect for their money.

“This warning goes hand-in-hand with action taken by government this week and is the latest step in our work to tackle rip-off prices and bad service.

“We continue to work closely with DHSC [Department of Health and Social Care] in reviewing this market and will be providing further advice to DHSC on action that can be taken.”

The letter lists 11 steps providers should take, including not focusing their advertising on cheap tests which are only available in small numbers; showing the full cost of tests including all compulsory charges; and providing ‘honest, accurate and clear’ timescales on when tests will be received.

PCR test providers should also ensure that their tests and results are provided within advertised timescales.

Rory Boland, Which? travel editor, said: “This intervention from the regulator is positive news, however this laundry list of problems has left travellers struggling for months to choose a trustworthy, reliable test provider and having to pay the financial penalty when things go wrong.

“The government must act swiftly to remove test providers misleading customers from its site, while the CMA must be prepared to take tough action against any firms flouting the rules.”

Picture by Cryptographer/Shutterstock.

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