The government has requested that the competition watchdog looks into “excessive fees” charged by Covid for travel tests.
In a letter to the Competition and Markets Authority, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said it was time for a “rapid high-level” assessment to protect consumers.
Many of the 400-plus companies offering PCR tests have been accused of charging exorbitant charges and providing poor service to tourists.
On average, tests cost around £75 per person, but for families planning to travel abroad, costs can reach hundreds of pounds.
The travel sector, as well as its own MPs, have been pressuring the government to abandon the expensive PCR testing.
“Passengers are being ripped off with expensive PCR tests,” MP Huw Merriman, chairman of the transport select committee, tweeted last week. In his letter to CMA chief executive Andrea Coscelli, Javid wrote: “I know that the cost of PCR testing can act as a barrier for too many people, particularly for families who want to travel together.”
“We have all experienced enormous disruption to our lives over this pandemic but it is not right if some families experience yet further disruption unnecessarily because of potentially unfair practices in the market for private travel tests.”
Rather than waiting for a lengthy competition inquiry, Javid has asked the CMA for urgent guidance on how to “stamp out any exploitative behavior in this market.”
However, Julia Lo-Bue Said, CEO of the Advantage Travel Partnership, questioned why Javid waited until the summer to call for action on “exploitative” PCR testing.
“British citizens would have paid £50 million (£10 million in VAT) on unneeded PCRs,” she tweeted.
“People should be free to go on vacation without worrying about paying exorbitant expenses for PCR tests, whether it’s to see family or just relax,” Javid added.
“That is why I have requested the independent CMA to look at how we can combat unfair market practices.” The government publishes a list of companies and clinics that provide testing, but there have been reports that many of them do not have complete accreditation.
PCR testing has been reported to be available for as little as £20 and as much as £500.
Consumers have complained about not obtaining test results or receiving faulty PCR kits, as well as excessive fees.
Rory Boland, travel editor, said: “Which? has been warning the government for several months that the cost of private testing for travel in this country is comparatively and prohibitively high.
“Currently, an unvaccinated traveller on a return trip to Spain requires four tests totalling an estimated £219 per person, and even if you are vaccinated it’s still close to a hundred pounds. Much of that cost is because of the high price of tests in the UK.
“While it is positive that the Competition and Markets Authority has been asked to examine the Covid test market, it is disappointing that it has taken so long for this issue to be investigated.
“The government must take action to ensure private testing for travel is affordable for all UK consumers – not just those who are better off.”
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