Just 2% of ‘cowboy’ Covid test companies removed from government list

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The competition watchdog is insisting it gave advice to Government officials about coronavirus travel testing in April (PA Archive)
The competition watchdog is insisting it gave advice to Government officials about coronavirus travel testing in April (PA Archive)

A review of “cowboy” Covid test providers used by holidaymakers has seen fewer than two per cent removed from the government approved list so far.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid announced the companies were being urgently evaluated after travellers were charged hundreds of pounds for swabs, despite misleading £20 offers still being promoted.

But, a week after the review into rip-off practices began there are just eight fewer providers on the 422-strong government website list.

Nearly all 16 of the companies offering tests “from £20” would only charge that price if the returning holidaymaker travelled to the firm in person to have a swab taken.

The laboratories were almost exclusively based outside London, with some as far away as Glasgow, a Daily Telegraph investigation found.

Many test sites were also unable to offer bookings before the end of August, meaning holidaymakers wanting a test sooner would have to pay the higher prices to post their swaps to a lab for analysis.

Firms charged up to £89 for the “at home swabs” - more than four times the price advertised on the government’s website.

Travellers have also criticised poor service from many testing companies, with late or lost tests a common complaint.

Paul Charles, the chief executive of the PC Agency, a travel consultancy, said: “There’s been no urgency at all in tackling many of these dubious providers. Amid much foot-dragging by government, consumers continue to be ripped off and the travel sector held back from full recovery.”

Travellers can pay an average of between £60 for home tests and up to £200 for private clinics, to get laboratory “gold standard” tests. Those returning from abroad must take at least one test when they get back in England regardless of their vaccination status

Passengers who are not fully vaccinated must take up to three tests if they are coming in from amber list countries, such as Spain or France, at a cost of £300 or more.

Ministers were warned about the “potential risks” of consumers being ripped off by providers of Covid PCR tests as early as April, the Competition and Markets Authority has said.

Mr Javid asked the CMA’s chief executive Andrea Coscelli to investigate “excessive” pricing and “exploitative practices” among PCR Covid test firms at the start of August.

In a letter to the CMA, Mr Javid said it was time for a “rapid high-level” review to protect consumers.

The CMA is understood to be gathering information on more than 400 PCR providers, including some pharmacies.

Julie Lo Bue Said, chief executive of Advantage Travel Partnership, the UK’s largest group of independent leisure and business travel agent experts, said: “It feels like a PR exercise for the government to come out and say ‘we’re looking at this now’. It is far too late, when the public has had to pay for all these tests.”

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