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Government accused of promoting Covid travel tests at misleading prices

·2 min read
<span>Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA</span>
Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA

The government has been accused of promoting companies offering Covid lateral flow tests for holidaymakers at misleading prices.

From Sunday, fully vaccinated people arriving in England from countries not on the government’s “red list” can take a lateral flow test instead of the more expensive PCR version.

But concerns were raised when the government published a list of firms providing tests on Friday as companies were accused of advertising “clickbait” prices but then charging more and “gaming” the website to appear first.

Test providers are listed alphabetically, with many using symbols, numbers, or a combination of both, to appear higher up the list.

The Which? travel editor, Rory Boland, said: “The PCR testing system for travel has been operating for months now and yet there are still major issues with providers gaming the system to appear at the top of the government list and advertising prices lower than the true cost.

“Unfortunately this means that yet again you can’t trust the information on the government website. The government’s list should be your starting point, but you will need to do your own homework and research into the providers.”

Analysis by PA Media found many of the companies with the lowest prices either did not actually allow customers to book tests, or the prices were much higher than initially advertised.

Some tests were offered from as little as £14.94, but clicking through to websites gave much higher prices. Frustrated travellers on Twitter accused firms of “fake advertising” and “clickbait”.

Boland said: “Problems that consumers have faced with the PCR testing market have been well documented so it’s inexcusable these issues have been repeated for the lateral flow testing system.”

Paul Charles, the chief executive of travel consultancy the PC Agency, said: “Why does the government fail to learn? Yet again it is quoting prices for day-two tests which are not reflected by the actual test providers on their own websites.

“Its poor oversight and lack of regulation of this multibillion-pound industry continues to beggar belief.”

Forty-eight providers are selling the tests for at least £100, with the most expensive being offered by ROC Health Services for £217 despite Sajid Javid, the health secretary, claiming the new policy would make international travel “easier and cheaper”.

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