The Competition and Markets Authority said on Friday that the PCR Covid testing market needs to be more tightly regulated.
The watchdog said there is a risk that without better regulation, there will be a “race to the bottom” in which providers compete on grounds other than high clinical quality and travellers end up losing out.
“Consumers’ complaints include that they are paying over the odds and receiving poor service, with test kits and results arriving late or not at all,” the CMA said. “They also say that, when things do go wrong, they are unable even to contact some providers, let alone get refunds when they are due.”
The watchdog recommended the creation of a “one-stop shop” list of quality, approved test providers by significantly improving the basic standards to qualify for inclusion and remaining on the GOV.UK list.
It also said that a comprehensive monitoring and enforcement programme should be introduced to ensure providers on the government list meet these basic standards and rules. The provider listings should be improved so consumers get the information they need to compare providers properly and find the best deals for them, the CMA said.
In addition, the NHS Test and Trace travel test should be developed as benchmark for quality and price to drive higher standards and more competition across the sector.
Chief executive Andrea Coscelli said: “Buying a PCR travel test is a lottery. From complaints about dodgy pricing practices, to unfair terms, to failure to provide tests on time or at all, to problems with getting refunds, the experience for some is just not good enough.
“Recent weeks have underlined that we will not hesitate to take action against any PCR test provider we suspect is breaking the law and exploiting their customers.
“However, competition alone will not do the job, even when backed by enforcement of consumer law. The PCR testing market is unusual because its key features are dictated by Government policy decisions to fight the pandemic.
“This means a more interventionist approach to shape behaviour in the market from the outset, backed up by monitoring and enforcement, is needed.
“We stand ready to keep working with the Government to make this market work better for everyone.”