Department of Health under pressure to stop charging travellers 'rip off' fees for Covid tests

Charles Hymas
·4-min read
Passengers arrive at Heathrow Airport in London - Andy Rain/Shutterstock 
Passengers arrive at Heathrow Airport in London - Andy Rain/Shutterstock
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter

The Department of Health is under pressure to stop charging travellers and holidaymakers “rip off” fees of more than £100 for PCR Covid tests.

Travel industry and private testing firms said the charge by the Government was exorbitant at more than double the rate of the cheapest PCR tests.

They warned it was effectively sanctioning PCR test costs that were unaffordable for many travellers, adding at least an extra £400 to a holiday for a family of four.

The Department of Health claimed it was charging at that rate because it did not want to “undercut” the private sector even though Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, has demanded companies bring down their charges which currently average £120 to £130.

“The Government needs to get a grip. They are not going out of their way to help recovery in the travel sector. They should be reducing costs as much as possible for consumers in order to encourage wider take up of testing,” said Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency.

“Instead they seem to be intent on raising barriers. They have got to get a grip on this because testing is turning into an issue that will dog this Government.”

One cut-price testing firm boss said: “If you go through the Government-approved list, there are a lot of providers who have gone in at the same price level because they followed Government thinking.”

Mr Shapps has pledged to remove any “profiteering” companies charging “rip-off” prices from the approved list of testing firms for travellers.

All holidaymakers returning from safe green list countries will be exempt from quarantine but will still be required to have a pre-arrival lateral flow test, which could be provided free by the Government, and a paid-for PCR test on or before their second day back.

Travel Traffic Lights
Travel Traffic Lights

A Telegraph investigation found the cheapest PCR test was £60 versus the most expensive at more than £200 – and one in Harley Street at £300 for a weekend test. The lowest now is £44.90. The Department of Health charges £210 for a package of two tests at days two and eight.

A health department spokesperson said: “Where the Government is co-existing as a supplier alongside private providers, the Government should not materially undercut providers and potentially drive competitive suppliers out of business.”

David Evans, chief executive of Collinson, one of the biggest test providers, said the Government should also ditch its VAT charge on private tests, which was adding 20 per cent to the cost.

“The NHS price for an amber test package is £210 – significantly more expensive than Collinson and several other private testing providers' prices," he added.

Aviation minister Robert Courts said Britons could now “start looking to book” summer holidays but said they should not go ahead until early May when the list of green, amber (10-day home quarantine) and red (hotel quarantine) countries would be published ready for foreign travel to resume on May 17.

“I would advise people to wait until they understand which categories each country falls into because there is a risk of disappointment,” Mr Courts told the transport select committee.

Mr Courts also said the Government would reconsider the tests and whether fully vaccinated holidaymakers could sidestep them when the traffic light system is reviewed on June 28, and again in July and October.

Meanwhile, Johan Lundgren, easyJet’s chief executive, said most European countries should be on the green list from May 17.

He said he could see no reason why the most popular countries like France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Croatia, Cyprus and Turkey should not be open when the Government lifted its ban on non-essential travel in mid-May.

He said the requirement for two tests for holidaymakers returning to the UK from green countries meant travel would be safe given the rollout of vaccinations in Britain and on the continent.

“If there are PCR and lateral flow tests needed, then by the time we get to May 17 and with the rollout of the vaccination programme that seems to be picking up everywhere around Europe, I would struggle to see many countries that would not be in that green category,” he said.

He said the airline was ready to "ramp up" services for the summer holiday season as it prepares to start offering more flights from late May after restrictions ease.

The carrier said it expects to fly up to 20 per cent of 2019 capacity levels between April and June, with most countries planning to resume flying at scale in May. It flew just 14 per cent of its 2019 flight programme between October and the end of March.