Listings with misleading pricing information and firms that did not offer testing services at all have been allowed to appear on the list of travel test providers from the UK government, a Which? investigation has found.
Amid concerns about prices, regulatory oversight and the capacity of the system when mass travel resumes, the consumer champion investigated some of the companies on the testing for travel list that claimed to offer some of the cheapest services.
Which? looked at the ten cheapest providers of tests for people entering the UK from an amber list country at the end of May, with prices being listed between £60 to £98.
However, a number of the tests listed among the cheapest providers turned out to be much more expensive than their initial listings suggested, while others were simply unobtainable.
On May 25th, the three cheapest providers on the list for entry into the UK appeared to be Biograd Diagnostics (£60), Screen4 (£60) and Book A Travel Test (£79.99).
But on further inspection, it transpired that these prices were either for booking one at-home test, or for booking a single test carried out in a clinic, rather than both Day 2 and Day 8 tests that are required for returning from an amber list country.
After Which? contacted the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), the prices for tests from these providers were amended to show prices ranging from £100 to £160, and the three companies no longer appeared in the top ten cheapest providers.
Both Biograd Diagnostics and Screen4 told Which? that there was an issue with how the DHSC recorded price information, suggesting that the incorrect prices had been listed by DHSC.
Since then, Which? has seen other companies jump to the top of the list by appearing to be among the cheapest, with the price for just one test quoted, rather than the two needed.
Which? also uncovered test providers listed on the government’s website that were not actually offering testing services at the time they were listed.
At the beginning of June, the list included five providers – 01 Test, 1010 Labs, Expert Medicals, Nationwide Testing, and Star Medicals – that appeared to be linked, with almost identically worded refund policies, and Expert Medicals telling Which? they were due to begin working with three of the four other labs, raising questions about competition between providers and the impact on consumers’ ability to make informed choices.
The labs claimed to charge between £85 and £89 for the tests needed to return from an amber country.
However, three of those companies – 01 Test, Nationwide Testing and Star Medicals – provided little information about their services, did not answer calls to the numbers they provided, and Expert Medicals told Which? that while it was due to start working with them, the companies had not yet started offering tests.
After the consumer champion asked DHSC why companies that could not yet provide tests were on the list, 01 Test, Nationwide Testing and Star Medicals were all subsequently removed.
When Which? checked again in the week beginning June 7th, Expert Medicals and 1010 Labs were both still listed among the cheapest on the list, at £93 and £79 respectively.
However, the £79 1010 Labs listing was only for a single test, rather than both tests required for return from an amber list country.
Expert Medicals also had a large number of complaints and very poor ratings on Trustpilot, while 1010 Labs had not yet appeared to have been reviewed anywhere at the time of the investigation, and was also found to be listing incorrect information on its website.
The 1010 Labs website initially said that it was offering cheap tests at various Premier Inn hotels around the country, but when Which? contacted Premier Inn, it told the consumer champion that this was not the case.
Premier Inn said it had been informed by 1010 Labs that the hotel chain had been listed by mistake, and that the tests are actually being carried out at Holiday Inns.
The consumer champion contacted Holiday Inn, which also said that it was not aware of the firm. However, it did say that some franchise hotels may have agreed to work with the test provider.
Taken together, these issues highlight serious flaws with the government’s current testing for travel system, with a clear lack of regulatory oversight that is desperately needed before mass travel resumes.
Rory Boland, Which? Travel editor, said: “Weeks on from some international travel being allowed to resume, it’s very concerning to still be uncovering such serious problems with the government’s testing system for travellers – problems that could have easily been ironed out well ahead of travel restarting, had proper regulatory oversight been ensured early on.
“As it stands, travellers risk being left at the mercy of rogue operators who, at best, attempt to profiteer off of those looking for testing services to allow them to travel, and at worst, risk leaving them out of pocket for services that don’t even exist.
“The government needs to urgently sort out these problems before mass travel resumes, or it will create chaos for travellers who have to rely on the system.”