The Government’s travel testing policy was in chaos last night after it was forced to backtrack on claims that holidaymakers could purchase tests for as little as £1.99.
Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, boasted on national radio that tests could be bought for under £2.50 from the Department of Health and Social Care’s (DHSC) list of approved test providers, as he claimed the Government was driving down costs for prospective holidaymakers.
However, just hours later, the DHSC’s list had to undergo a major overhaul with the advertised prices increased by almost 60-fold. One firm offering tests at prices from £1.99 on Friday morning was hiked to £117.99 by Friday afternoon
The move followed an investigation by The Telegraph that found most of the cheapest test providers, all advertising kits at below £20, had been lambasted in consumer reviews by holidaymakers angry over non-existent or late test results, delays or blanked calls.
It comes amid fears that holidaymakers could be left stranded by the complex rules on inbound and outbound travel as airlines refuse boarding to any passenger without proof of vaccination or the correct Covid tests.
One expert said travellers now "needed a PhD".
Bookings for holidays have doubled in the last 24 hours after the Government announced fully-jabbed holidaymakers and their children will be able to travel to amber list countries from July 19 without having to quarantine on their return, according to Skyscanner, a leading tracking site.
All holidaymakers from amber and green list countries apart from children aged under five will, however, have to pay for at least one PCR test on their return to the UK.
Analysis conducted by The Telegraph of the cheapest 19 test providers on the DHSC’s list found most were making misleading claims of prices from as low as £1.99 up to £19.99 but which were actually significantly higher when customers clicked through to their websites.
Those with the lowest prices push themselves to the top of the list.
The cheapest was Expert Doctors offering tests from £1.99 when the actual cost for two tests was £155.
One customer who reviewed the company on Trustpilot claimed to have paid £250 but got no results back. Another received just two out of six tests they ordered before turning to the NHS for substitute tests.
‘This is a joke’
Another commented: "The UK Government website is a joke letting these scams get away with hard earned people’s money."
By late Friday, the DHSC, which is responsible for the site, appeared to have revamped the prices, with Expert Doctors going from £1.99 to £117.99. Others increased from £4.85 to £119, £4.99 to £119.99, £5 to £25 and £7.50 to £155.
The cost of kits from 1010Labs, apparently cited on Times Radio on Friday morning by Mr Shapps as offering tests from £2.49, was reconfigured as £99.99 by Friday evening.
Ninety-five per cent of its reviews on Trustpilot were rated "bad", with one customer saying they were still waiting for their test result after two weeks. "I am appalled that operators like this end up on a Govt website, with the appearance of being recommended," they said.
Only three of the test providers originally stated as under £20 had received positive feedback on the Trustpilot site.
Testing is like the ‘wild west’
One of Britain’s leading test providers at Heathrow, Gatwick and international sports events warned that testing was a "wild west" in which holidaymakers were at risk of being ripped off by profiteering companies.
Nick Markham, co-founder of Cignpost Diagnostics, said he was proposing a new kitemark system to reassure travellers they will get the service they are promised from companies that will only be allowed to bear the insignia if they meet agreed standards.
"We are trying to set up a trade body for companies with more than 1,000 reviews at four stars or above," he said. "The idea is that if there is a recognisable kitemark and marketing campaign, people will know if they look out for this kitemark, it is legit. That would hopefully solve a lot of these issues."
Holidaymakers returning from amber list countries are being warned they face queues and delays at airport check-in desks as staff will have to manually check digital or paper vaccination certificates and pre-departure tests.
Airlines face £2,000 fine for errors
Airlines have been told by the Government they will be responsible for ensuring passengers board with the correct documentation – or face a fine of £2,000 for each case that does not follow procedures.
This means that they will deny boarding to anyone who fails to navigate the complex requirements of the passenger locator form, where holidaymakers have to log their vaccination status, their PCR test bookings in the UK and pre-departure test results.
"There will be a small minority who will be forced to stay in their holiday destination because of errors on their forms that cannot be rectified there and then," said a senior aviation executive.
"The biggest issue we have had are on outbound [flights] where people have not checked what is needed on a green, amber or red country and as a result not been able to fly."
Paul Charles, the chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said: "There’s now a lengthy checklist that all travellers will need before they travel somewhere both for outbound as well as inbound. You almost need a PhD.”
1010Labs and Expert Doctors have been contacted for comment.