The cost of travel tests from NHS Test and Trace for people who arrive from abroad into the UK is to be cut, the Health Department has said.
It is to go down from £88 to £68 for UK travellers who have come from green list countries, or those who have arrived from amber list countries and have been fully vaccinated.
The cost for people arriving from amber list countries who are not fully vaccinated is to go down from £170 to £136 for two tests.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid also said there will be a 10-day internal review starting this weekend of the pricing and standards of service from providers of the tests that are to be taken by those who have returned to England on days two and eight of their arrival from abroad.
Consumers and families need to be protected from “exploitative practices”, according to Mr Javid, who said he wants to ensure that high quality tests are available at a reasonable price.
NHS Test and Trace advertises these tests alongside private companies’ testing packages and they are available to buy to fulfil the UK Government’s testing requirements for international travel.
Mr Javid said he has ordered his department to urgently review the list of private providers on gov.uk to ensure pricing is clearer and transparent.
He added: “Any provider found to be misleading the public will be kicked off.
“Too many providers are acting like cowboys and that needs to stop. The public should be allowed to enjoy their summer holidays without having to face excessive costs or anxiety.”
Airport Operators Association chief executive Karen Dee, who described the cost of testing for travel as “sky-high”, said: “However, this small reduction is little more than tinkering and does not go anywhere near far enough to meaningfully cut the costs of travel.”
She called on the Government to “get a grip on testing and replace costly PCR tests with more affordable rapid tests for low-risk countries and bring international travel in line with the rest of the economy”.
The price reduction comes as the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said it is looking at whether there are any “immediate actions” the Government can take amid concerns about the high cost of PCR tests for travel abroad.
The competition watchdog had previously confirmed it will look into issues around testing, following a request from Mr Javid, but said it will give its recommendations “within the next month”.
Now the watchdog has said it is also looking at “steps that could be considered in the interim” to address what it described as a “particularly pressing issue”.
The CMA said it is looking at three areas – whether individual PCR providers may be breaching their obligations under consumer law and should be subject to enforcement action; whether there are structural problems in the market for PCR tests, affecting price or reliability; and whether there are any immediate actions that the Government can take in the meantime.
Some providers offering PCR tests which meet minimum standards have been charging £200 or more.
This week, Conservative MP Henry Smith, who is the chairman of the Future of Aviation All-Party Parliamentary Group, said private Covid-19 tests should be capped at £40.
He said this would allow more people to travel abroad, putting aviation “back on a sustainable path to recovery”.
George Lusty, the CMA’s senior director for consumer protection, said: “It is essential that people paying for PCR tests are treated fairly, get what they pay for and that their rights are respected when things go wrong.
“We will not hesitate to take enforcement action if we find evidence that PCR providers are breaching consumer law.
“We are also working closely with the Department of Health and Social Care to get the data we need to identify the cause of any wider problems in the PCR testing market, and to ground our advice on what action may be needed.
“This is a particularly pressing issue just now for families hoping to enjoy a well-earned holiday after such a difficult year, and for those reuniting with friends and relatives overseas.
“That is why we are also providing ongoing support to DHSC, including on steps that could be considered in the interim, before the rest of our work on the PCR testing market is concluded.”
Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said ministers have been “asleep at the wheel on this”.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “This is an industry that has grown up, that’s worth some £700 million. It’s grown up in the last six months at great speed, but there’s been a lack of oversight or proper regulation.”
He said the process of organising, paying for and carrying out the tests has “too many layers of complexity”.
He added: “It’s putting off consumers. Government is determined to dampen demand, I don’t think there’s any doubt about that.
“But of course, because it’s putting off people, that’s not helping the travel sector recover and we’re likely to see more failures and job losses because ministers have not done enough, along with the regulators, to save the August peak period.”