Cost of Covid PCR tests for travel to be investigated by watchdog over ‘rip-off’ prices

Health Secretary Sajid Javid has complained of ‘‘exploitative behaviour’ in the market, with some private firms charging up to £500 for Covid tests

The cost of private Covid-19 PCR tests for travel is to be investigated by the Competition Watchdog after holidaymakers are hit with eye-watering fees.

The probe comes after a letter from Health Secretary Sajid Javid complained of ‘unfair practices’ and ‘exploitative behaviour’ in the market, with many firms charging up to £500.

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By comparison, the cost of PCR tests in Greece and Italy are capped at just £34 and £52 respectively, while in France, tests are free for French citizens.

PCR tests are required for all travellers returning to the UK from green and amber list countries (Photo: Getty Images)

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At a glance: 5 key points

- More than 100 private test providers listed on the government website, which meet minimum testing standards, are charging customers £200 or more.

- Analysis of the list by the Liberal Democrats shows that just 11 per cent of the providers offered tests for under £50, with the cheapest prices starting from £20.

- Some 24 per cent of the providers charge more than £200, with the Mayfair GP clinic listed as £575, although its own website states that prices start at £399.

- Covid-19 PCR tests are required for all travellers returning to the UK from green and amber list countries, regardless of their vaccination status.

- Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been urged to cap the cost of private PCR tests to prevent foreign holidays becoming a luxury that is only open to the wealthiest families.

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What’s been said

Lib Dem health spokeswoman Munira Wilson has said that “international travel cannot become a luxury that only the wealthy can afford”, and warned that the cost of PCR tests are far higher in the UK than in most other countries.

Ms Wilson said: “Many have not seen their loved ones abroad since the beginning of the pandemic and the cost of testing is a real barrier to travel.

“When the cost of providing a test is estimated to be £20, why are many companies charging well over £100 and some over £500?

Testing is vital in our fight against the pandemic, but if it is safe to travel it should be affordable to travel.

“The Liberal Democrats are calling on the government to cap the cost of PCR tests for international travel, scrap the VAT on tests and cut the red tape that is keeping prices high.”

Mr Javid has acknowledged that the price of the tests can serve as a barrier to travel for many families and has asked the competition watchdog to investigate the market in response to concerns over the costs.

He has asked the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to conduct a “rapid high-level review of the market” to assess what action might be taken to ensure that consumers do not face unnecessarily high costs to travel abroad.

In a letter to the CMA chief executive Andrea Coscelli, he said: “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.

“It is important that the sensible measures we have introduced at the borders are fair and transparent and don’t involve unnecessary costs or low quality provision to people who have made so many sacrifices during this pandemic.”

“I would be grateful if you would provide me with advice on what further steps we might take to stamp out any exploitative behaviour in this market and would also urge you to take action to prevent such exploitation where you can under your existing powers.”

Background

Travellers arriving in the UK from amber list countries who are not fully vaccinated must self-isolate for 10 days upon arrival and take a PCR test on day two and day eight.

It is possible to end the quarantine early in England if you pay for a private PCR test to be taken on day five under the Test to Release scheme, providing this comes back negative.

Those who have had two vaccine doses are only required to take a PCR test on day two of their arrival and are no longer required to self-isolate.

The same rules apply to those who are under the age of 18 regardless of their vaccination status.

Anyone returning from a green list country is only required to show proof of a negative Covid-19 test before travel, complete in a passenger locator form and take a test on day two after arrival.

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