Calls to end holiday Covid test rip-off: Ministers urged to honour pledge to slash cost of screening


Ministers are today urged to curb the ‘rip-off’ cost of Covid tests for holidaymakers.

MPs, travel chiefs and consumer groups lined up to accuse the Government of reneging on its promise to significantly drive down the price of travel testing.

They are backing a new Daily Mail campaign that calls on ministers to deliver on their pledge or risk millions of families facing crippling testing bills and being priced out of foreign summer holidays or reunions with loved ones.

As a starting point, we are urging the Treasury to axe VAT on the so-called ‘gold standard’ PCR tests, which would slash costs significantly. Campaigners also want ministers to look across the Channel, where several countries have axed VAT, introduced a cap on the cost of tests, or are even providing them for free to help the travel industry rebound.

Some are calling on ministers to consider greater use of cheaper lateral flow tests to help lessen the cost. And many have demanded that travellers who are fully protected against Covid, with both doses of a vaccine, should be subject to less stringent requirements.

Karen Beddow (pictured with her family) faced spending £1,200 on Covid tests to travel to Portugal with her husband Matthew and their three daughters

Aaron Entwistle (pictured with his family), 45, paid £3,170 for an all-inclusive seven-night vacation starting on July 24.

Aaron Entwistle (pictured with his family), 45, paid £3,170 for an all-inclusive seven-night vacation starting on July 24.

Tory MP Henry Smith, chairman of the all-party Future of Aviation group of MPs, said last night: ‘Frankly, some of these tests remain a rip-off. There is much more that the Government must do to support our aviation, travel and tourism industries and this must include the immediate removal of VAT on all testing.’ The demands came as:

  • Fears were raised that ministers might delay the end of lockdown on June 21 as Government advisers claimed a third wave was already under way;
  • Business leaders warned that many firms would not be able to cling on if ‘freedom day’ was pushed back;
  • The milestone of vaccinating three-quarters of adults with their first dose is set to be hit today;
  • There were extraordinary queues at a new walk-in vaccine centre at Twickenham Stadium after it was opened to allow anyone over 18 to get a jab;
  • A health service boss warned that even a minor rise in Covid patients could cause the NHS problems;
  • OECD forecasts showed that Britain is set to grow faster than any other major economy this year and next.

Although the price of PCR tests has fallen in recent weeks as new firms enter the market, just 11 of the 331 private providers listed on the Government’s website offer a single PCR test for under £60 per person – with the most expensive being £399.

Manchester United fan Harriet Butcher (pictured) was forced to spend £300 on Covid tests so she could travel to Poland to watch her team in the Europa League final last week

Manchester United fan Harriet Butcher (pictured) was forced to spend £300 on Covid tests so she could travel to Poland to watch her team in the Europa League final last week

Rules that are so baffling  

Before you fly

Travellers flying out of the UK for a holiday will need evidence of a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours for almost all countries. Travellers usually have to provide proof of this test when they depart the UK, and when they land – and have to pay for it themselves.

Returning from green list countries 

Before you fly home: Take a test within 72 hours of travel back to England. This can be a PCR test or a lateral flow – but if the latter, it must satisfy Government rules on accuracy. 

After you arrive back: You must buy and take a PCR swab test on day two after arriving back, but there’s no need to self-isolate.

Returning from amber list countries before you fly home

Take a test within 72 hours of travel back to England. 

After you arrive back:

Self-isolate at home or another fixed address for ten days, plus each individual must buy and take two PCR swab tests – one on day two and one on day eight.

Potential early release: Travellers can choose to leave self-isolation early if they pay for a PCR test on day five after their return.

But even if they test negative, they still have to pay for and take the test on day eight.

Returning from red list countries 

Before you fly home: Take a test within 72 hours of travel back to England. 

After you arrive back: You must pay for approved hotel quarantine for 11 nights, which must begin immediately. This includes the cost of two PCR swab tests for each person, to be taken on days two and eight. The package costs £1,750 a head.

These rules apply in the same way for all arrivals into Scotland and Wales, as well as England.

 

As a result, families face several hundred pounds being added to the cost of their holiday for every round of testing required by the traffic light system.

Individuals or families can be required to take as many as five tests each when they head abroad. One before they leave, one before they fly home and then as many as three after they return, depending on the length of their quarantine.

Last night, travel bosses demanded urgent action to help hard-pressed holidaymakers and the industry.

Former British Airways chief Willie Walsh, now boss of industry body the International Air Transport Association, said: ‘Testing is a critical element of the pandemic response. Companies should not be profiteering and the Government should not be charging VAT.

‘Testing should be free, as the World Health Organisation has recommended and many governments, for instance in France, have already provided. The testing rules must be consistent – it shouldn’t be required for vaccinated people, and it shouldn’t be needed for children.’ A study recently found PCR tests, which ministers insist must be used instead of cheaper lateral flow devices, are twice as expensive in Britain compared to parts of Europe.

While the cost of a PCR test in the UK was on average around £120, the average across eight of the most popular holiday destinations on the Continent was £62.

Most of the EU has also exempted PCR tests from VAT. Greece has introduced a price cap of €40 (£34) and regions in Italy have capped the cost at €60 (£52). In some countries, travellers can get free, government-subsidised PCR tests.

In April, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said he agreed testing bills were too expensive and vowed to ‘drive down’ costs. At the time, he said: ‘That is something I am going to be working with the travel industry and private testing providers on to drive that cost down and try and make this as cheap and convenient as possible.

Questions ministers must answer  

1 Why do we charge VAT on PCR tests when most EU countries don’t?

2 Why not a price cap if we’re serious about kick-starting travel?

3 The WHO wants states to make travel testing free, so why don’t we?

4 If travel testing cannot be made free, why don’t we subsidise it?

5 Why aren’t travellers allowed to take cheaper lateral flow tests?

6 Why do fully vaccinated travellers have to shell out for tests?

 

Last night, MPs and industry figures pleaded for action. Tory MP Huw Merriman, chairman of the Commons transport committee, said: ‘The current cost of PCR tests will price many people out of international travel. If the Government is fixed on using PCR tests, it could make them affordable by exempting them from VAT.

‘The price of testing should not prevent British residents from visiting their loved ones abroad and from taking well-earned summer holidays.’

British Airways chief Sean Doyle said: ‘For low-risk green countries, we see no need for customers to take expensive and time-consuming PCR tests when the Government has shown that lateral flow tests being used in care homes and schools accurately identify Covid cases. While PCR tests continue to be required… we believe they shouldn’t have to pay VAT on what is effectively a health test.’

Steve Heapy, chief executive of Jet2, added: ‘The current testing regime risks putting off hard-working families so that travel becomes the preserve of the wealthy. The Government has previously said that it will drive down the cost of testing and this needs to happen immediately.’

Johan Lundgren, chief executive of easyJet, said: ‘When the Government announced the traffic light system they pledged to lower the cost of testing. Unfortunately they have failed to make good on this. Simply removing the VAT would go some way to reducing the cost but more needs to be done. Testing is much cheaper in Europe and in some cases provided for free while Brits are paying through the nose.’

Last night, a Government spokesman said: ‘Testing post-arrival remains an important tool in our wider measures to manage the risk of imported cases of Covid-19, as well as allowing us to identify variants of concern.

‘We recognise the cost of tests can be high, which is why we’re working with the travel industry and private testing providers to see how we can reduce the cost of travel for the British public.’ 

HOW TESTS CAN COST TRAVELLERS MORE THAN THEIR TRIPS 

CUT-PRICE – but still £665

Karen Beddow faced spending £1,200 on Covid tests to travel to Portugal with her husband Matthew and their three daughters.

She managed to get the cost down to £665 – but only after a day’s research and drawing on her expertise as a travel blogger. It is still a 26 per cent premium on the cost of the family’s £2,500 half-term trip to stay in a villa near Lagos in the Algarve.

It would have been even more expensive if her children were not exempt from the lateral flow tests travellers need to take before they fly home as they are under 11.

Mrs Beddow, 43, from The Wirral, Cheshire, said: ‘It’s absolutely crazy.’

Mrs Beddow and her husband, a 47-year-old property developer, managed to cut the costs by finding a £99 buy-an-adult-test-get-a-child-test-free deal for the UK tests, meaning they had to buy only three.

Both adults need a lateral flow test in Portugal. One firm offered to supply the certificates after verifying the tests in a video call for £39 each. Further PCR tests for the family on day two of their return to the UK will cost £58 each, or £290 in total.

Mrs Beddow, who runs a travel blog at minitravellers.co.uk, said many families who had postponed holidays to Portugal that were cancelled last year due to the pandemic were now having to pay for the tests. ‘They can’t cancel because it’s now on the green list, so they’ll find themselves with significantly higher costs,’ she added.

WE’D RATHER STAY IN THE UK

A project manager has cancelled his family’s dream holiday to the Greek island of Kos because of the £450 cost of getting coronavirus tests.

Aaron Entwistle, 45, paid £3,170 for an all-inclusive seven-night vacation starting on July 24. He booked the trip in June last year – before widespread Covid testing had been introduced for holidays.

But earlier this month he discovered that he would have to pay £450 for PCR tests for himself, his fiancée Tamzin Halpin, 35, and his 12-year-old daughter Briana.

Alarmed by the extra cost, Mr Entwistle, from Stafford in Staffordshire, decided to cancel it. He had to pay a £600 cancellation fee, but said this was preferable than seeing the cost of the holiday soar to £3,620.

Instead, he is taking his family on a £1,200 campervan holiday to the Peak District.

TESTS COST MORE THAN FLIGHT

Manchester United fan Harriet Butcher was forced to spend £300 on Covid tests so she could travel to Poland to watch her team in the Europa League final last week.

The public affairs manager, 26, ended up spending more on the tests than she did on the trip. Miss Butcher said: ‘I was in Poland for less than 24 hours and the trip alone only cost around £200. It was very frustrating to have to pay so much.’

 

The PCR test price lottery 

From budget companies to premium clinics charging hundreds, the Government’s website features a confusing array of more than 300 PCR testing providers.

Although ministers say they ‘do not recommend any particular test provider’, it removes those from its list that it deems to be ‘failing to meet the required standards’.

Nevertheless, the Mail’s research has found that the register is continuing to display companies which have been on the receiving end of numerous complaints.

A government spokesman said: ‘We are closely monitoring the performance of private test providers to ensure they deliver a high quality of service to customers.’ Here are four examples of how the service varies:

1 NAME: Expert Medicals

WHERE: Bradford

COST: £45

Expert Medicals appears to be an attractive option for travellers seeking to save on a post-arrival home test, since it is among the cheapest providers on the Government’s register at just £45. However the company, which is registered to a rundown shop in Bradford, has attracted criticism from customers, with one writing it is ‘diabolical’.

Pictured: Passengers arriving at the testing centre at Heathrow Airport in west London

Pictured: Passengers arriving at the testing centre at Heathrow Airport in west London 

Almost all of the reviews left on website Trustpilot have reported bad experiences, with claims of non-existent customer service and having plans ruined. The company failed to respond to requests for comment.

2 NAME: The Mayfair GP Clinic

WHERE: Central London

COST: £399

The clinic, based in London’s wealthy Mayfair district, offers a ‘premium’ testing service, which includes a doctor attending the customer’s home to carry out the test, courier service for same-day delivery of samples and follow-up advice for any positive cases.

Run by Dr Vibhu Kaushal and Dr Vikas Mehta, their practice ‘puts the emphasis on the personal connection and continuity of care’. Its site adds: ‘We are here to listen to your concerns and offer you invaluable support for every aspect of your patient journey.’

3 NAME: PCR Labs

WHERE: Chiswick, west London

COST: £259

Using eco-friendly bicycle couriers to deliver tests, who wait while you complete it, PCR Labs offers results guaranteed within 24 hours for all samples collected before 3pm.

The company also offers a ‘full antibody test’ for £289. Ecofleet, the firm’s test delivery partner, offers a ‘mindful’ courier service.

The bicycle-only delivery company was founded by Farah Asemi after she was inspired to help encourage greener practises following a chronic pulmonary disease diagnosis she put down to air pollution.

4 NAME: La Perla

WHERE: Marlow, Buckinghamshire

COST: £150

Travellers who wish to take a post-arrival test at La Perla – a dental clinic – might be able to hang around for a dental checkup, veneers, or even beauty treatments such as laser hair removal and fillers.

Highlighting the financial issues that dentists are facing since the pandemic, the practice states on its website that they have been ‘burdened with huge additional fees in restructuring the clinics and provision of PPE, for which we have no funding’.

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