The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) warned there is a “race for the bottom” in the PCR testing market which could see travellers lose out and called on the Government for an “interventionist” response.
The CMA advised that the Government should create a one-stop shop list of “approved test providers by significantly improving the basic standards to qualify for inclusion and remaining on the gov.uk list”.
It also called for a more comprehensive monitoring and enforcement programme to ensure test providers meet the Government’s standards and receive swift sanctions for failings.
It comes weeks after the regulator said it found evidence providers of some Covid-19 travel tests flouted consumer rules and threatened enforcement action.
Last week, the watchdog confirmed that Expert Medicals, one of the UK’s biggest PCR testing companies, is under investigation following a series of complaints from customers.
Recent weeks have underlined that we will not hesitate to take action against any PCR test provider we suspect is breaking the law and exploiting their customers
Andrea Coscelli, CMA
The CMA said on Friday that the Government needs a “more interventionist” approach to address concerns regarding the market, and Health Secretary Sajid Javid announced new fines.
Mr Javid said: “It is completely unacceptable for any private testing company to take advantage of holidaymakers and we are taking action to clamp down on cowboy behaviour.”
He said: “Through our regular reviews and spot-checks, we have identified even more providers that were messing around with costs and have now removed 91 providers from gov.uk and corrected inaccurate prices of 135 private providers who will be removed from the list if they advertise misleading prices again.
“From September 21, in order to ensure travel test providers are performing to a high legalised standard, there will be tough new penalties for companies that fail to follow the law, including fixed fines of up to £10,000.
“I am reviewing the recommendations from the Competition and Markets Authority and will outline further changes shortly to ensure consumers are given the best tests at the very best prices.”
The CMA said other potential interventions could include the development of a NHS Test and Trace travel test as a benchmark for quality and price to drive higher standards and more competition across the sector.
The CMA also advised the Government to monitor prices and costs on an ongoing basis, in case price reductions are not seen on the back of other measures
Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA, said: “Buying a PCR travel test is a lottery.
“From complaints about dodgy pricing practices, to unfair terms, to failure to provide tests on time or at all, to problems with getting refunds, the experience for some is just not good enough.
“Recent weeks have underlined that we will not hesitate to take action against any PCR test provider we suspect is breaking the law and exploiting their customers.
“However, competition alone will not do the job, even when backed by enforcement of consumer law.
“The PCR testing market is unusual because its key features are dictated by Government policy decisions to fight the pandemic.”