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CMA warns PCR COVID-19 test providers against breaching consumer law

The CMA has sent an open letter to PCR COVID-19 test providers warning that a range of harmful practices in the sector could breach consumer protection law.

The practices of concern to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) include:

    • 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.

It comes after the Government this week (23 August) announced it would be warning 82 companies that they face being removed from the Gov.uk list if they advertise misleading prices.

Building on this, the PCR test providers’ warning letter from the CMA noted that if they mislead customers or treat them unfairly they could also face enforcement action from the CMA or Trading Standards. The letter instructs PCR test providers 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’.

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 letter lists 11 steps providers should take, including not focusing their advertising on 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. The PCR test providers’ warning also highlighted that PCR tests and results should be provided within advertised timescales.

Further information can be found on the CMA rapid review of PCR testing for travel web page.

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