PCR test providers warned against breaking consumer law

The competition watchdog has warned PCR Covid test providers that they risk enforcement action over misleading advertising and failing to deliver results on time.

In an open letter to providers, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said a range of harmful practices, such as upfront prices that do not include additional charges and failing to deliver results within stated timescales, could breach consumer protection law.

The “practices of concern” include advertising upfront prices for tests which do not include additional charges that everyone must pay, and advertising cheap PCR tests which are only actually available in very small quantities or are not available at all.

The CMA also warns providers against failing to deliver PCR tests or provide results within stated timescales, or at all, or refusing to provide consumers with refunds where tests are not provided on time.

The move follows the Government announcing this week that it would be advising 82 companies they face being removed from the Gov.uk list if they advertise misleading prices.

The CMA’s letter tells providers that if they mislead customers or treat them unfairly they could also face enforcement action from the CMA or Trading Standards.

It instructs them to “immediately review their practices and policies to make sure they are in line with the requirements of consumer law and to make any changes where necessary”.

CMA general counsel Sarah Cardell said: “PCR test providers should be in no doubt that they need to get on the right side of the law. If they don’t, they risk enforcement action.

“Our advice today will also help people by setting out exactly what they should expect for their money.

“This warning goes hand in hand with action taken by Government this week, and is the latest step in our work to tackle rip-off prices and bad service.

“We continue to work closely with DHSC in reviewing this market and will be providing further advice to DHSC (Department of Health and Social Care) on action that can be taken.”

Which? Travel editor Rory Boland said: “This intervention from the regulator is positive news; however, this laundry list of problems has left travellers struggling for months to choose a trustworthy, reliable test provider and having to pay the financial penalty when things go wrong.

“The Government must act swiftly to remove test providers misleading customers from its site, while the CMA must be prepared to take tough action against any firms flouting the rules.”