Covid travel: Ministers urged to step in over 'rip-off' Covid tests to go abroad

There are growing calls to clean up what's being called the 'chaotic' system of Covid tests for foreign travel, ITV News Political Reporter Shehab Khan explains

Ministers are being urged to intervene over coronavirus tests for foreign travel amid widespread complaints of "rip-off" services failing to provide results in time - even with some holidaymakers being forced to fork out hundreds for the checks.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said he is "worried about the length of time it takes for tests and the costs of tests".

"A lot of people are returning feeling they're not entering an orderly system and frankly I think they feel they're being ripped off," he told ITV News.

He added: "I don't think the government's had a grip of borders for a very long time. If it had a grip of borders we wouldn't have the Delta variant. It is only because the border with India wasn't closed quickly enough that we're in the situation we're in."

Starmer slams the government's Covid travel policy

Vaccinated people going on holiday to an amber list country are required to pay £91 in total on average for tests in order to travel. Those who have not been vaccinated will need to pay a total of £219 on average.

Vaccinated travellers will pay around £39 for a rapid antigen test in an amber list country before returning home and around £52 for a PCR test on day two after arriving back in the UK.

If an unvaccinated person wants to go on holiday to amber list countries such as France and Spain, they'll have to pay for four coronavirus tests.

On average they'll pay £85 for a PCR test before their departure, says consumer website Which?, £39 for a rapid antigen test to return home, followed by PCR tests on days two and eight after travel, to the tune of £95 on average.

People who refuse to take the tests could be fined up to £2,000.

It is the particularly expensive PCR tests which are causing the most concern, with more than 400 companies in the UK being seen to profit from the industry.

Some can be bought for as little as £29, however there are reports of some costing as much as £200.

And many firms are failing to deliver test results or sending out damaged testing kits, according to reports.

Labour leader Sir Keir said the government must "ensure that tests are available quickly, turned around quickly, and they're available cheaply or free". "Tests have been the single most important thing almost throughout the pandemic... they're still probably the most important indicator because as you know, if you've been double-vaccinated that's not necessarily a sign of immunity from variants," he added.

On Monday, Health Secretary Sajid Javid wrote to the Competition and Markets Authority, asking it to investigate "excessive" costs and "exploitative practices" among PCR Covid test firms.

He said: "I know that for too many people the cost of PCR testing can act as a barrier, especially for families who want to travel together.

"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."

Randox, one of the biggest firms offering PCR tests, was roundly criticised after images of overflowing boxes for completed test kits were posted on social media, leading to the testing system being branded an "absolute mess".

Traveller Gavin Marshall expressed his anger at being "forced to pay Randox over the odds" for a day two PCR test for his daughter, who had recently returned from a holiday in Portugal.

He explained that he drove for half an hour to drop off his sample as there are "so few collection points", but on arrival found the box "overflowing and insecure".

The teaching assistant told PA: "I initially hesitated (and thought) 'is this ever going to get there'? But the next nearest one was about 45 minutes drive in the wrong direction and I wouldn't have got there before the deadline.

"So I had absolutely no choice but just to sort of squeeze it in on top of the box and hope for the best."

The PC Agency, a travel consultancy group, said the images demonstrate "the absolute mess that PCR testing has become".

It claimed they are proof that private laboratories "aren't in any hurry to turn around the results" and warned that personal details and samples are being "left for anyone to take".

A spokesman for Randox said: "Randox is constantly expanding and improving its Covid-19 testing capacity and associated logistics network, which is already the largest in the United Kingdom, to meet the rapidly growing demand resulting from the loosening of travel restrictions.

Randox, one of the biggest firms offering PCR tests, has been criticised for the quality of its service. Credit: PA

"Randox continues to increase the number of drop boxes across the United Kingdom, which already totals over 200, and is increasing the frequency of box collections which are already occurring multiple times per day.

"Randox is providing premium testing services in dynamic and rapidly changing circumstances and is committed to continuously improving its logistics network, to ensure that international travellers receive their results in time.

"All of the sample kits pictured will be processed."

Labour said the government "must intervene" if the firm is failing to deliver a proper service.

Labour shadow minister urges ministers to step in over PCR tests:

Shadow minister Kate Green said local health teams should managing Covid-19 rests for travellers because they've been "proven to be very effective".

"The idea that parcelling out contracts to the private sector is going to be the most effective way to do this has not been demonstrated by our experience over the last few months.

"I think using the expertise that we have in our NHS and local public health teams has been proven to deliver better results and that's something that I would like to see."

Coronavirus: What you need to know