The advertising watchdog is reviewing the lack of the cheapest Covid tests for international travellers listed on the government’s website.
Two-thirds of the cheapest “government-approved” kits were unavailable, The Guardian reported.
The Advertising Standards Authority is now investigating the issue, saying that it has received complaints from consumers over “inconsistent pricing” of the testing kits that are mandatory for overseas travel.
The hundreds of tests listed on the government’s website are provided and processed by private companies in England at wildly varying prices – from £20 to £575.
Companies appeared to be offering a “smattering” of on-site tests at low prices so that they can appear at the top of the list of 420 providers, consultancy company Fideres said.
The group of analysts, that investigate corporate and financial misconduct, accused the government of failing to check that the low prices listed on its own website are actually available.
In England, a small number of laboratories currently process the tests for hundreds of test providers. The lab Oncologica, for example, carries out tests that cost £22.50 for the Covid-19 Travel Clinic and £575 for The Mayfair GP Clinic.
Fideres analysed the 50 entries on the website that purported to be the cheapest. Of the 36 offering on-site tests or click and collect kits – typically the cheapest – two-thirds of them were unavailable or had no appointments until September.
Where there was availability, it was usually in just one location, Fideres found when it tried to book tests on Tuesday.
The listings, that include on-site tests, can be ordered by price to show the cheapest or most expensive first but cannot be ordered by region – making it difficult to find on-site tests available in a specific town or city.
Fideres said consumers should expect to pay about £114 for a two-test kit. The cheapest two-swab postal kit for travellers returning from an “amber list” country cost £78, it found.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We do not endorse or recommend any private Covid-19 test provider. All private providers must meet the minimum required standards and each of them are reviewed by the independent United Kingdom Accreditation Service.
“The government carefully monitors issues raised by the public and takes rapid action with companies where necessary, giving providers a five-day warning if their service is inadequate and if they do not rectify it, removing them from the appropriate travel test list.”
Unvaccinated holidaygoers returning to England from an “amber list” country are required to take a test before travel and book PCR tests for the second and eighth day of the 10-day quarantine on return.
If fully-vaccinated, only a test is required before travel and a test on the second day after arriving back in England.
Both vaccinated and unvaccinated travellers need to have a test three days before leaving the country they are holidaying in to return to England.
In Wales, the tests provided and processed by the NHS are available at a set price – £88 for one test on arrival from an amber list country if fully-vaccinated, and £170 for two tests if unvaccinated.