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Competition watchdog warns test providers

CMA sends open letter to PCR companies to clamp down on “rip-off prices and bad service”

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has sent an open letter to PCR Covid-19 test providers warning that harmful practices in the sector could be breaching consumer law.

The move comes after the government revealed this week that it would be warning 82 companies that they face being removed from the gov.uk approved list if they advertise misleading prices.

More than 50 test providers were removed from the government’s official list this week as they no longer exist or were not providing the relevant tests.

Practices of concern highlighted in the letter were:

  • advertising up-front prices for PCR tests which do not include additional charges that everyone must pay
  • advertising cheap PCR tests which are only actually available in very small quantities or are not available at all
  • failing to deliver PCR tests or provide results within stated timescales, or at all
  • refusing to provide consumers with refunds where tests are not provided within advertised and/or agreed timescales, or at all.

The letter warns companies that they could “risk enforcement action” from the CMA or Trading Standards if they mislead customers or treat them unfairly.

Companies are being urged 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”.

The letter lists 11 steps providers should take, including not advertising cheap tests which are only available in small numbers; showing the full cost of tests including all compulsory charges; and providing “honest, accurate and clear” timescales on when tests will be received.

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 on action that can be taken.”

The open letter is available on the CMA’s website.