‘Cowboy’ covid testing firms face £10,000 fines

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PCR tests being analysed (Jane Barlow/PA) (PA Archive)
PCR tests being analysed (Jane Barlow/PA) (PA Archive)

Covid-19 testing companies will face £10,000 fines for taking advantage of holidaymakers and 91 have already been removed from the government’s approved list following a review.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said following an investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) into the private testing market, 135 providers have also had their inaccurate prices corrected.

The tests typically cost £75 but some companies have been charging up to £200 to travellers who are legally required to rake a test before travelling abroad.

He warned: “They will be removed from the list if they advertise misleading prices again.

“It is completely unacceptable for any private testing company to take advantage of holidaymakers and we are taking action to clamp down on cowboy behaviour.”

Mr Javid asked the competition watchdog a month ago to investigate the PCR test market over concerns of “exploitative practices” and vastly different costs to travellers who must take the tests on return to the UK.

Passengers complained of significant price differences and levels of service from the more than 400 firms offering the tests.

Some were failing to send out the tests on time or were not returning the results in time.

The government has a list of companies and clinics offering COVID testing, but many lack full accreditation and more than 100 outlets in August were charging £200 or more.

Mr Javid added: “Through our regular reviews and spot-checks, we have identified even more providers that were messing around with costs and have now removed 91 providers from Gov.uk and corrected inaccurate prices of 135 private providers who will be removed from the list if they advertise misleading prices again.

“From 21 September, in order to ensure travel test providers are performing to a high legalised standard, there will be tough new penalties for companies that fail to follow the law, including fixed fines of up to £10,000.”

The CMA said other potential interventions could include the development of a NHS Test and Trace travel test as a benchmark for quality and price to drive higher standards and more competition across the sector.

The CMA also advised the Government to monitor prices and costs on an ongoing basis, in case price reductions are not seen on the back of other measures

Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA, said: “Buying a PCR travel test is a lottery.

“From complaints about dodgy pricing practices, to unfair terms, to failure to provide tests on time or at all, to problems with getting refunds, the experience for some is just not good enough.

“Recent weeks have underlined that we will not hesitate to take action against any PCR test provider we suspect is breaking the law and exploiting their customers.

“However, competition alone will not do the job, even when backed by enforcement of consumer law.

“The PCR testing market is unusual because its key features are dictated by Government policy decisions to fight the pandemic.”

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