• Sunday, July 03, 2022

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UK watchdog to investigate Covid testing firms over high prices

Workers collect swab tests from members of the public at a Covid Test site in South London on September 15, 2020 in Greater London, England. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

By: Shilpa Sharma

BRITAIN’S competition watchdog assured the government on Thursday (12) that it would help in taking action against Covid-19 testing companies if they were found to be violating consumer law.

The statement comes in the wake of concerns raised about the price and reliability of PCR travel tests and the quality of the service people are getting from PCR test providers.

Health secretary Sajid Javid wrote to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) on August 6 asking it to look into the market for PCR tests to ensure that consumers did not face unnecessarily high charges or poor service.

The CMA said in a statement that it was exploring if individual PCR providers were breaching their obligations under consumer law, and if there were structural problems in the market for PCR tests that could affect price or reliability.

It would also examine if there was any immediate action that the government could take in the meantime.

George Lusty, CMA senior director for Consumer Protection, said: “It is essential that people paying for PCR tests are treated fairly, get what they pay for and that their rights are respected when things go wrong. We will not hesitate to take enforcement action if we find evidence that PCR providers are breaching consumer law.

“We are also working closely with DHSC to get the data we need to identify the cause of any wider problems in the PCR testing market, and to ground our advice on what action may be needed.”

For international travel during the coronavirus pandemic, the UK has divided countries in three categories, with low-risk countries rated green for quarantine-free travel, medium risk countries rated amber, and red countries requiring arrivals to spend 10 days in isolation in a hotel.

Tests cost about £75 per person on average but there are reports of some being offered for as little as £20, and others more than £500.

More than 400 test providers are listed on the government’s website for travellers who are required to organise these tests. All travellers from countries on the green and amber lists must book a test to be taken two days after they arrive in Britain.

There have also been complaints over those refusing to refund charges despite failing to deliver test results on time.

Earlier, the CMA had said it would respond to Javid’s request “within a month”, which sparked an angry reaction from travel industry bosses who feared no changes before the end of the summer holidays would devastate the industry.

“This is a particularly pressing issue just now for families hoping to enjoy a well-earned holiday after such a difficult year, and for those reuniting with friends and relatives overseas. That is why we are also providing ongoing support to DHSC, including on steps that could be considered in the interim, before the rest of our work on the PCR testing market is concluded,” Lusty said.

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