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Watchdog issues warning to Covid test providers

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Written by: Emma Lunn
25/08/2021
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has warned PCR test providers against breaking consumer law.

The CMA has told PCR test providers they could face enforcement action if they mislead consumers over prices, fail to deliver tests or results in stated timescales, or refuse refunds where an advertised service isn’t delivered.

The watchdog has sent an open letter to PCR Covid-19 test providers after the government asked it to carry out a rapid review into the PCR testing sector.

One of the main concerns the CMA has is providers advertising upfront prices for PCR tests which don’t include additional charges that everyone must pay. It also says some providers are advertising cheap PCR tests which are only actually available in very small quantities or are not available at all.

The CMA is also clamping down on providers which fail to deliver PCR tests or provide results within stated timescales, or at all, and those providers who refuse refunds to consumers where tests or results are not provided as agreed.

It comes after the government warned 82 companies that they face being removed from the Gov.UK list if they advertise misleading prices.

The CMA letter instructs PCR test providers to ‘immediately review their practices and policies to make sure they are in line with the requirements of consumer law and to make any changes where necessary’.

Sarah Cardell, CMA general counsel, said: “PCR test providers should be in no doubt that they need to get on the right side of the law. If they don’t, they risk enforcement action. Our advice today will also help people by setting out exactly what they should expect for their money.

“This warning goes hand-in-hand with action taken by government this week and is the latest step in our work to tackle rip off prices and bad service. We continue to work closely with DHSC in reviewing this market and will be providing further advice to DHSC on action that can be taken.”

The letter lists 11 steps providers should take. These include not focusing their advertising on cheap tests which are only available in small numbers; showing the full cost of tests including all compulsory charges; and providing ‘honest, accurate and clear’ timescales on when tests will be received.

Rory Boland, Which? Travel editor, said: “This intervention from the regulator is positive news, however this laundry list of problems has left travellers struggling for months to choose a trustworthy, reliable test provider and having to pay the financial penalty when things go wrong.

“The government must act swiftly to remove test providers misleading customers from its site, while the CMA must be prepared to take tough action against any firms flouting the rules.”

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