The former chairman of the UK competition regulator has condemned the market for PCR tests for travellers, describing it as a “rip-off jungle”.
After the reimposition of the requirement to take the tests on return from abroad, Lord Tyrie accused the government of once again allowing the companies offering PCR tests to manipulate the system by making them available at unrealistic prices.
“For this policy to get into a mess once might be seen as a misfortune but for it to resurface again after all the warnings over the summer would have to be described as carelessness,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “It was a scandal waiting to happen and it’s now happened and it needs very urgent action.”
Last week, the Guardian revealed that a slew of the cheapest deals on PCR tests had been removed from the government website amid concerns travellers were being misled by companies advertising the coronavirus testing service for less than a £1.
Private companies offering day two tests for travellers are listed on a government website for consumers to search. However, most of the deals were found to not be suitable for most travellers as they were often offered in only one location, on limited dates and only available to those who could attend in person.
“It appears that some of the worst practices – misleading online advertisements, overpricing, unacceptably poor service among them – are still widespread,” said Tyrie, the former head of the Competition and Markets Authority, and the ex-chair of the Treasury select committee.
“To allow this to continue over the peak Christmas period would be scandalous. Other countries seem to have done better, we’ve got to try harder.”
Concerns regarding the price of tests have been raised again after the government announced people arriving in the UK would need to take a PCR test before the end of their second day, as well as a pre-flight test.
The Laboratory and Testing Industry Organisation, which works with ministers to ensure the UK testing industry has high ethical and professional standards, said the government had failed to “enforce accuracy” on its provider list.
A government spokesperson said: “We’ve been clear that it is unacceptable for any private testing company to take advantage of holidaymakers.”