Holidaymakers wanting to book half-term travel tests faced chaos as the government website crashed, with the setback following complaints of “rip-off” prices and fake advertising.
The site, offering cheaper lateral flow tests, was launched at 4am on Friday but crashed within hours, leaving holidaymakers unable to book tests for their return to the UK next week.
Even before they lost access, however, tests of the site by The Telegraph had found that the lowest advertised prices either did not allow customers to book the tests or the actual costs were much higher.
C-19 Direct is listed as offering tests for £14.94 – but the cheapest available option on its website on Friday morning was £59.95. By noon, it had updated to offer tests at the advertised price but said they were out of stock.
The link for Testing for All – which advertised tests at £19 – initially did not work but, once it came online, it announced at noon that it had temporarily paused sales due to “very high demand”.
One firm offered “click and collect” tests for £19.99, but only from Nov 3, after the end of half-term, while another sold a walk-in lateral flow swab for £35 – but only if people travelled to Liverpool.
Writing on Twitter, frustrated travellers described the listings as “fake advertising” and “clickbait”.
Paul Charles, the chief executive of 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 at most for a day two antigen test which they can take at home.”
From Monday, fully jabbed travellers will be able to use the supposedly cheaper lateral flow tests instead of more expensive PCR tests when they return to the UK. Once booked they are registered on passenger locator forms and, once taken, a photograph confirming the result has to be sent to the private provider.
Lateral flow tests for non-travellers are available free of charge on the NHS, while in most other major European tourist destinations they cost no more than £20. But 48 of the 450 UK providers on a parallel site offering both PCR and lateral flow tests are selling the lateral flows for at least £100, with the most expensive offered by ROC Health Services at £217.
A Department of Health source said: “The list of lateral flow providers will expand and scale up, and in relatively short order.”
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