Ministers have been accused of doing the “bare minimum” to curb companies charging “misleading” prices for Covid travel tests and instead have been urged to name and shame the firms.
Ahead of a review of the traffic light system of quarantine rules which government sources said was unlikely to result in many major changes, Labour urged the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, to take tougher action against businesses “exploiting” the pandemic by imposing “rip-off” prices.
Ministers announced earlier this week that 82 companies had been issued a “two-strike warning” for displaying lower prices on the gov.uk website than were available at the point of checkout, making up about 18% of the companies on the government’s approved list.
The true costs of the tests have now been updated and companies will be removed if they are found to advertise misleading prices again, the Department of Health and Social Care said.
However the shadow transport secretary, Jim McMahon, said a faster and better way to ensure fairness would be to name and shame those that fail to be transparent about the cost of their tests.
McMahon – who has also called for the government to publish the full data behind decisions to change the traffic light system which grades countries according to factors including their Covid case, vaccine and variant rate – argued ministers should be doing “all they can” to support travellers, “rather than adding to their costs”.
He said: “The government has failed to properly vet the test providers listed on its own website, with incomplete and often inaccurate information offered to the public, as well as misleading prices.
“Ministers have done the bare minimum to help families desperate to get away for a break after such a difficult time, instead leaving them to foot unreasonable and hidden costs. Naming and shaming providers who are exploiting this situation is the least they can do.”
MPs, including Conservatives, have pushed for the cost of travel tests to be brought down significantly.
A government spokesperson said: “We are reviewing all private providers to ensure they meet our robust standards.
“Over 80 private travel testing companies have been issued a two-strike warning for inaccurate pricing and face removal from the gov.uk list if they do so again.
“The decision to add countries to the red, amber or green lists is made by ministers, informed by the latest scientific data and public health advice. We publish a wide range of data and evidence on gov.uk including regular analysis by the JBC (Joint Biosecurity Centre) and the methodology that underpins it.”
Henry Smith, who is the chair of the future of aviation all-party parliamentary group, said people were being forced to “pay through the nose for a battery of tests” and compared the charge to a “tax” on travellers, suggesting a cap of £40 for each PCR test be set.
Several days ago, the health secretary, Sajid Javid, said it was “absolutely unacceptable” for “cowboy” firms to advertise misleading prices. He added: “We are also introducing regular spot checks this week to make sure all private providers follow the rules and meet our high standards of transparency.”