PM urged to cap cost of Covid tests before travel becomes 'luxury only wealthy can afford'

8 August 2021, 23:01

The Lib Dems are urging the PM to cap the "rip-off" prices of PCR tests for travellers.
The Lib Dems are urging the PM to cap the "rip-off" prices of PCR tests for travellers. Picture: Alamy

By Sophie Barnett

Boris Johnson has been urged to cap the cost of private Covid-19 tests to prevent foreign holidays becoming a luxury open only to the wealthiest families.

People entering the UK have to take a PCR test before they land under the government's international travel rules, which saw a number of countries move to the green list and France drop its "amber plus" status today.

The government website shows more than 100 providers of PCR tests charging £200 or more, with travellers complaining of significant price differences and levels of service.

The Health Secretary has asked the competition watchdog to investigate the "excessive" costs of tests, and the Lib Dems have called on prices to be capped.

Read more: Javid asks competition watchdog to investigate 'excessive' cost of PCR tests

Analysis of the list of government approved providers by the Lib Dems shows just 11% of the providers offered tests for under £50, with the cheapest offering prices ranging from £20.

Some 24% of the providers were charging more than £200 - with the Mayfair GP clinic listed as £575, although its own website said prices start at £399.

Sajid Javid has asked the competition watchdog to investigate the market in response to concerns about the cost for families travelling abroad to protect travellers from being "exploited".

He said in a tweet: "People should be able to go on holiday, whether it's to see family or just to relax, without fearing excessive fees for PCR tests."

The Lib Dems are calling on the government to cap the costs, scrap the VAT charge and "cut the red tape that is keeping prices high".

The party's health spokeswoman Munira Wilson said: "International travel cannot become a luxury that only the wealthy can afford.

"The price of PCR tests for international travel are a rip-off and far higher than most other countries.

"Many have not seen their loved ones abroad since the beginning of the pandemic and the cost of testing is a real barrier to travel.

"When the cost of providing a test is estimated to be £20, why are many companies charging well over £100 and some over £500?

"Testing is vital in our fight against the pandemic, but if it is safe to travel it should be affordable to travel.

"The Liberal Democrats are calling on the Government to cap the cost of PCR tests for international travel, scrap the VAT on tests and cut the red tape that is keeping prices high."

Mr Javid acknowledged that the cost of the tests can act as a barrier to travel, particularly for families.

In a letter to CMA chief executive Andrea Coscelli, Mr Javid said: "We have all experienced enormous disruption to our lives over this pandemic, but it is not right if some families experience yet further disruption unnecessarily because of potentially unfair practices in the market for private travel tests.

Read more: From travel insurance to PCR tests: How to book a holiday abroad in 2021

"It is important that the sensible measures we have introduced at the borders are fair and transparent and don't involve unnecessary costs or low quality provision to people who have made so many sacrifices during this pandemic.

A CMA spokesman said it is aware of concerns about the "evolving markets for Covid-19 tests" and looks forward to providing the health secretary with advice on how "best to ensure that travellers have access to tests that are affordable and reliable".