Most of the cheapest Covid tests for travelers listed on the government website are not available to vacationers planning to leave this summer, with critics claiming consumers are at the mercy of a ‘Wild West’ market. “.
The Advertising Standards Authority told The Guardian it was investigating now, after receiving complaints from consumers about what it called “inconsistent prices.”
Private companies offering traveler testing are listed on a government website for consumers to search for and the results appear in order of price, with the cheapest options at the top.
At first glance, the packages seem to be available for as little as £ 23. However, analysis of the offers announced by the top 50 companies on the list shows that of the 36 offering on-site testing or click and collect packages, the cheapest options for travelers, two-thirds could not be purchased or did not have an appointment before September. .
Analysts from consulting firm Fideres who conducted the study said the companies appeared to offer a “small” amount of on-site testing at low cost in order to push themselves to the top of the list of more than 400 vendors.
The cheapest two-swab postal kit, which would be required by travelers returning from an Orange List country, costs £ 78, he found.
“The government reports prices that are only a small fraction of what most consumers pay, without actually checking whether these low prices are available,” said Paul Vella, partner at Fideres. “Not only does this mislead consumers, it can actually cause them to use more expensive suppliers. “
Unvaccinated holidaymakers returning to England from an Amber List country must take a test before traveling and book PCR testing for days two and eight of a 10-day quarantine upon their return. If they are fully vaccinated, they only need to do one post-return test. English holidaymakers may look for the best deal, but the rules for testing in other home countries are different.
In Wales, for example, travelers pay a fixed price and the test is provided by the NHS.
Fideres found that the names at the top of the government list had the largest gap between their announced and actual prices in the Top 50.
The government’s decision to list businesses by price, regardless of their accessibility, has prompted businesses to offer at least one service very cheaply, Vella said.
It’s not just the price of the tests that gives consumers a headache, but the sheer difficulty of getting them. Suppliers include the labs themselves, established resellers as well as newly formed companies that industry insiders say are little more than a website and phone number.
On Tuesday, Fideres tried to book the cheap on-site or click and collect test packages announced by the 36 Top 50 companies. For the month of August, it was only possible to do this at a dozen companies. , with reservation attempts on some websites. simply reach a dead end. Where there was availability it was usually in one location.
On Friday morning, CK Doctors Covid Travel Clinics was second on the list with a supervised test of £ 23.50.
However, the option was only available on Mondays and there were no slots available on its Bradford site until September.
Anglia DNA, ranked third, announced a travel package for £ 24, but the test site is in Norwich and the booking system did not work for August dates.
CK Doctors Covid Travel Clinics has said it has no plans to stop advertising the deal and that testing availability is a capacity issue. “We will try to increase the availability of this offering and expand it in the future depending on the capacity,” he said.
Anglia DNA said a number of low cost products were available on its website, but availability was “very dynamic”.
“We are effectively depleted in some product categories for the next three weeks as we have used full capacity for that period,” said a spokesperson for Anglia DNA. “Reservations are taken extremely quickly and early in the day. We are working hard to meet unprecedented demand as we build the platform for all product areas. “
The government’s list is regularly updated, and 19 of the top 50 cheapest test providers of two-swab testing packages on Thursday were no longer selected on Friday. Analysts said consumers should realistically expect to pay around £ 114 for a two-swab home testing kit.
Although there are 421 companies listed on the government portal, the provision of testing and treatment is carried out by only a handful of laboratories, seven of which handle around 75% of the market. The lowest advertised prices are often below cost, as the amount charged by labs to process the tests, excluding the kit, is around £ 38.
“This is only sustainable if vendors limit the offering to the below-cost service, using it to entice customers to buy their most expensive tests,” Vella said. The government should verify that the displayed prices are “really available to a significant number of consumers”.
Testing companies fear the system could harm the industry. Avi Lasarow, of testing company Project Screen by Prenetics, called on the government to monitor him more closely.
“The government’s list of Covid vacation testing providers is like the Wild West with cowboys not playing fair with vacationers,” he said. “He’s clearly trying to monitor and measure suppliers to enforce higher standards. But that must now include a review of pricing and service policies to further ensure consumers have reliable end-to-end service. “
The government website states that the prices are “indicative” and that “the final price you pay may be different from the price displayed”. Consumers have been advised to use comparison sites like covid19-testing.org or check reviews on sites like Trustpilot before deciding which company to use.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Affairs said: “We do not endorse or recommend any private Covid-19 test provider. All private providers must meet minimum standards and each is reviewed by the UK’s independent accreditation service.
“The government is carefully monitoring issues raised by the public and taking swift action with businesses if necessary, warning providers five days if their service is inadequate and if they don’t correct it, removing them from the list of appropriate travel tests. “
A spokesperson for the Advertising Standards Authority said: “We have received complaints about this, regarding inconsistent pricing, which we are currently reviewing. “