Government cracks down on PCR testing 'cowboy behaviour'

 A view of the Claret Diagnostics private health Covid testing facility in London�s Leicester Square.
Claret Diagnostics services range from common Pathology tests and extending to providing PCR Swab Tests in kit form for a DIY self-test or by a specialist Nurse. (Photo by Dave Rushen / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
The UK government on Monday said it was taking action against 82 companies that provide PCR tests for travellers. Photo: Dave Rushen/SOPA Images/Sipa USA/PA

Almost one in five state-sanctioned PCR test providers are at risk of being axed from government websites due to "misleading" prices.

The UK government on Monday said it was taking action against 82 companies that provide PCR tests for travellers, after finding that prices listed on government websites were lower than on the provider's actual websites. The firms facing censure represent 18% of all the companies listed on the government's PCR travel advisory website.

"It is absolutely unacceptable for any private testing company to be taking advantage of holidaymakers and today’s action clamps down on this cowboy behaviour," health secretary Sajid Javid said in a statement.

He said: "57 firms will be removed from the GOV.UK list and a further 82 will be given a 2-strike warning — if they advertise misleading prices ever again, they’re off."

Watch: Test tensions for UK travellers

The move follows public outrage over "rip off" costs for PCR tests, which are required for international travel and mostly delivered by the private sector. Research by car insurer Admiral found the UK was among the most expensive places in the world for PCR testing, with Brits spending an average of £92 ($126) on testing to go abroad.

Read more: How to exchange foreign currency coins

Travel firms have also complained that Britain's cumbersome PCR testing regime is hurting their industry. The chief executive of Heathrow said the UK was "falling behind its EU rivals" last month.

Javid wrote to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) at the start of August calling for a "rapid high-level" review of the PCR market. He later reduced the cost of an NHS PCR test by over a fifth in an attempt to drive down the market price.

The health secretary said on Monday that new spot checks would be introduced to ensure firms were meeting standards. Providers who fall short will be removed from government listings. The government is currently drawing up official guidelines on pricing and service standards for PCR tests, which will be published shortly.

Watch: Airline refunds: What are your rights as a consumer?