Many of the cheapest offers on PCR testing have been removed from the government website over concerns that travelers will be misled by companies advertising the coronavirus testing service for less than £ 1.
It is understood that officials have acted on complaints from the industry, after concerns that some vendors are manipulating the rankings. Private companies offering 2-day tests for travelers are listed on a government website for consumers to search for.
Over the weekend, ministers reintroduced PCR testing for travelers over concerns over the Omicron variant of the virus. Therefore, anyone returning to the UK from abroad must take a test before the end of the second day after arrival.
The Guardian asked how the list was being handled after a sample taken from the website on Tuesday showed dozens of offers at £ 1 or less from companies, including !! ++ 0044 Tests and! Covid Testing Direct.com . The list of 450 companies is ranked in order of price, so those with the cheapest deals are on top.
However, the top-ranked offers are not suitable for most travelers as they are often in one location, on limited dates, and only available to those who could attend in person.
For example, A YCT MedLabs has a 75p Day 2 testing offer, but there are no testing slots available on their Maidstone site in December or January. !! ++ 0044 Tests, which is no longer at the top of the leaderboard, had £ 1 tests available but only in Kendal in Cumbria.
By Thursday morning, the majority of those promotions were no longer listed, with the number of offers at £ 1 or less reduced to just two, with 14 fewer offers available.
The list is managed by the UK Health Safety Agency and a spokesperson said: ‘We regularly audit the suppliers listed on gov.uk and remove suppliers when they promote misleading test prices. “
Over the summer, the Autorité de la concurrence et des Marchés sent an open letter to PCR test providers warning them that a series of harmful practices, including advertising cheap tests that are only available in very small amounts, or none at all, could violate consumer protection law.
Francis Ingham, the independent director of the Laboratory and Testing Industry Organization (LTIO), a trade association, welcomed the move and said it would increase confidence in testing. He suggested the super cheap deals were “too good to be true”. “It’s only if you go to a certain part of the country at a certain time on a certain day, otherwise it’s not available. “
Ingham said the way the government-run travel test system meant it was constantly being “played” by companies and urged people to look for the LTIO’s Kitemark when booking. Its members represent 80% of the country’s testing capacity.
“There is a code of conduct that says the advertised prices are correct. They are transparent about the process and the terms and conditions, ”he added.
Avi Lasarow, of testing company Project Screen by Prenetics, which is a member of LTIO, said the low-cost offers were a “bogus mechanism to get people to go to their websites” because once the person was on the website, “they were more likely to buy a more expensive test.”
He suggested that the pricing information be removed completely. “That way, consumers can see an approved list of suppliers and it’s up to them to browse the list to find the one that’s right for them. “
YCT MedLabs said its 75p products were incentives for the local community and the sudden changes over the weekend meant all tests available for December had been picked up. “We intend to free up more slots, but you will understand that they are at a loss and that we also have to take into account the staff on the site, which is currently our only site at the moment, because we are only a small supplier, ”the company said. .
The Guardian has contacted !! ++ 0044 Tests and! Covid Testing Direct for comment.