Travellers returning to England from abroad are now able to book cheaper lateral flow tests rather than PCRs. For fully vaccinated international arrivals from Sunday 24 October, the cost of the so-called “day two” test for travellers is set to fall.
Announcing the change, the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said: “Taking away expensive mandatory PCR testing will boost the travel industry and is a major step forward in normalising international travel and encouraging people to book holidays with confidence.”
The government website lists suppliers with prices starting as low as £1. But research by The Independent shows the cheapest tests are accompanied by onerous terms and conditions. In all cases when clicking through, travellers are presented initially with much more expensive options.
For example, Aasha Testing is listed as providing £19.97 tests, but when the traveller clicks through the only price quoted is £29.
A provider called A1 Covid Testing is the cheapest on the UK government site, at just £1. In order to qualify, the traveller must book a slot at the company’s offices to the north of Norwich city centre.
The earliest appointment The Independent could find was 15 December, with days before that apparently fully booked.
The provider says “Medicap Services Ltd owns and operates this website” – but Companies House says this firm was dissolved in 2018.
Next cheapest is a Slough-based company called Hasu Diagnostics, which offers PCR tests for £1.49.
But they can be booked only by travellers who, four to six weeks before their intended date of return to the UK, visit the company’s offices to collect the kit.
The company says: “Proof of Travel and Passport is required for Buy the test.”
Third on the government’s list when searching by lowest price is Zoom Tests, which offers a £1.95 test - for arriving travellers who can visit the company’s premises at Portishead, west of Bristol.
Paul Charles, chief executive of the travel consultancy The PC Agency, said: “Why does the government fail to learn? Yet again it is quoting prices for day two tests which are not reflected by the actual test providers on their own websites.
“Its poor oversight and lack of regulation of this multi-billion pound industry continues to beggar belief. Fully-jabbed consumers shouldn’t have to pay more than £25 for a day two antigen test which they can take at home. No sending off or visiting a lab is needed.
“It’s vital to shop around and choose a low-cost but bona fide provider.”
At the time of announcing the downgrading of PCR tests to lateral flow tests for the vaccinated, the government said it “will continue to publish a list of private testing providers who meet the minimum standards for the public to choose from”.
NHS lateral flow tests cannot be used for the purposes of meeting government requirements for international travel.
Anyone testing positive on their lateral flow travel test is then required to take a free NHS PCR to confirm the result.