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Travel Covid testing firms not clear on pricing

Written by: Emma Lunn
Several Covid-19 testing firms have been removed from the government travel testing list after an investigation uncovered pricing issues and some firms which did not actually offer coronavirus tests.

Which? investigated some of the companies on the government’s testing for travel list that claimed to offer some of the cheapest services. It looked at the 10 cheapest providers of tests for people entering the UK from an amber list country at the end of May, with prices listed between £60 and £98.

However, a number of the tests listed among the cheapest providers turned out to be much more expensive than their initial listings suggested, while others were simply unobtainable.

Test prices

On 25 May, the three cheapest providers on the list for entry into the UK were Biograd Diagnostics (£60), Screen4 (£60) and Book A Travel Test (£79.99). But on further inspection, it transpired that these prices were either for booking one at-home test, or for booking a single test carried out in a clinic, rather than both day 2 and day 8 tests that are required for returning from an amber list country.

Which? contacted the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), and the prices for tests from these providers were subsequently amended to show prices ranging from £100 to £160. The three companies then no longer appeared in the top 10 cheapest providers.

Both Biograd Diagnostics and Screen4 told Which? that there was an issue with how the DHSC recorded price information, suggesting that the incorrect prices had been listed by DHSC.

Since then, Which? has seen other companies jump to the top of the government’s list by appearing to be among the cheapest, with the price for just one test quoted, rather than the two needed.

Tests not available

Which? also uncovered test providers listed on the government’s website that were not actually offering testing services at the time they were listed.

At the beginning of June, the list included five providers – 01 Test, 1010 Labs, Expert Medicals, Nationwide Testing, and Star Medicals – that appeared to be linked, with almost identically worded refund policies. Expert Medicals told Which? they were due to begin working with three of the four other labs, raising questions about competition between providers and the impact on consumers’ ability to make informed choices.

The labs claimed to charge between £85 and £89 for the tests needed to return from an amber country. But three of those companies – 01 Test, Nationwide Testing and Star Medicals – provided little information about their services and didn’t answer phone calls. Expert Medicals told Which? that while it was due to start working with them, the companies had not yet started offering tests.

After the consumer champion asked DHSC why companies that couldn’t yet provide tests were on the list, 01 Test, Nationwide Testing and Star Medicals were all subsequently removed.

When Which? checked again in the week beginning 7 June, Expert Medicals and 1010 Labs were both still listed among the cheapest on the list, at £93 and £79 respectively. However, the £79 1010 Labs listing was only for a single test, rather than both tests required for return from an amber list country.

The 1010 Labs website initially said that it was offering cheap tests at various Premier Inn hotels – but this was a mistake and it was supposed to say Holiday Inns.

But Holiday Inn said it hadn’t heard of 1010 Labs – although some franchised hotels may have had their own agreement.

Lack of regulatory oversight

Which? says that taken together, these issues highlight serious flaws with the government’s current testing for travel system, with a clear lack of regulatory oversight that is desperately needed before mass travel resumes.

It is calling for the government to explore options for reducing the cost of testing across the board, and to urgently ensure all providers are accredited. It also said that the government should have ‘proper oversight’ of the companies listed on its website, and it should ensure that companies are providing up to date, accurate and accessible information about the tests available and their relevant costs.

Rory Boland, Which? Travel editor, said: “Weeks on from some international travel being allowed to resume, it’s very concerning to still be uncovering such serious problems with the government’s testing system for travellers – problems that could have easily been ironed out well ahead of travel restarting, had proper regulatory oversight been ensured early on.

“As it stands, travellers risk being left at the mercy of rogue operators who, at best, attempt to profiteer off of those looking for testing services to allow them to travel, and at worst, risk leaving them out of pocket for services that don’t even exist. The government needs to urgently sort out these problems before mass travel resumes, or it will create chaos for travellers who have to rely on the system.”

Earlier this week, a Covid testing firm warned that holidaymakers faced a summer of missed flights, lost test results, delays and unclear PCR tests.

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