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Calls for tighter restrictions on travel test providers before tests are dropped

travel tests

By Isabel Shaw
Reporter

13 Sep 2021

The competition watchdog has called for the Government to improve the Covid travel testing market, which it says is currently a ‘lottery’ for customers.  

It comes after the health secretary, Sajid Javid, revealed he intends to scrap the PCR travel tests ‘as soon as [he] possibly can’ and replace them with a lateral flow system.  

The Competition Market Authority (CMA) is concerned that customers are being ripped off and are losing out on reasonable PCR travel test prices, which are currently mandatory for passengers returning from green list countries, or amber list destinations. 

An earlier review, conducted by the CMA found that competition among providers alone would not guarantee the right outcomes for consumers in the PCR testing market.  

Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA, said the current market is ‘just not good enough’.  

‘From complaints about dodgy pricing practices to unfair terms to failure to provide tests on time or at all, to problems with getting refunds’, he added. 

The Government has already removed 91 travel test providers from the Government website for advertising misleading prices. 

The body suggested a combination of ‘up-front regulation, monitoring and wider sanctions’ would improve the market for those customers who need tests. 

The recommendations include:  

  • Creating a one-stop-shop list of quality, approved test providers by significantly improving the basic standards to qualify for inclusion and remaining on the GOV.UK list.  
  •  
  • Introducing a comprehensive monitoring and enforcement programme to ensure providers on the GOV.UK list meet these basic standards and rules, and swiftly removing and sanctioning those firms that don’t.  
  •  
  • Improving the provider listings on GOV.UK so consumers get the information they need to compare providers properly.  
  • Developing the NHS Test and Trace travel test as a benchmark for quality and price. 
  • Monitoring prices and costs on an ongoing basis. 

Mr Coscelli also said: ‘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.  

‘This means a more interventionist approach to shape behaviour in the market from the outset, backed up by monitoring and enforcement, is needed.  

‘We stand ready to keep working with the Government to make this market work better for everyone.’ 

However, Mr Javid said this weekend that he wants to scrap the travel PCR tests ‘as soon as [he] possibly can’.  

Speaking on Sky News (12 September)Mr Javid said ministers were considering replacing PCR travel tests with cheaper lateral flow tests that could be completed in people’s homes. 

‘I am not going to make that decision right now, but I have already asked officials that at the moment we can, let’s get rid of this kind of intrusions, the costs that generates for families, particularly families just trying to go out and holiday’, he said. 

‘We shouldn’t be keeping anything like that in place for a second longer than is necessary,’ he also added. 

In April, it was reported that 90% of community pharmacies in England were offering free, rapid tests for home use as part of the Pharmacy Collect service.  


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