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Tackling the Covid Cowboys

Our specialist immigration law team at Optimus Law would like to invite you to remember the complex processes that UK immigrants go through to ensure they enter the UK legally.

In addition to saving up the necessary fees and filling in the complex paperwork needed to obtain the appropriate UK visa, people usually need to organise seemingly endless details such as arranging jobs and accommodation – and if they are arriving with family and pets in tow, things can become even more complicated.

Add to this the ongoing (and seemingly ever-changing) Covid rules and the hoops that you must jump through to obtain the appropriate test before arriving in the UK and you begin to understand just how much time and effort is involved.

Now imagine you are trying to arrange all of this, only to receive poor service from so-called “cowboy” companies that are selling Covid-19 tests – and even risk the potential of arriving in the UK without the appropriate tests being carried out.

The global pandemic has certainly made entry to the UK more cumbersome for long-term visitors, permanent immigrants, and holidaymakers alike. The need to obtain the proper Covid testing, and paperwork, presents another hurdle to jump through, so it is important this task is made as easy as possible.

That is why we welcome the recent intervention by the UK government and the UK’s competition regulator which are designed to force these “bad” companies to get their act together and deliver the correct product in a professional manner.

Action from the UK government

Optimus Law recently learned how More than 80 private Covid-19 testing companies could lose government approval to sell PCR travel tests following a review by ministers into misleading costs from “cowboy” providers. The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has stated how 82 providers have been issued a two-strike warning for displaying lower prices on the government website than are available at the point of checkout, making up about 18 per cent of the companies on the government’s approved list.

A further 57 companies have already been removed from the list as they no longer exist or do not provide tests for people to use on day two and day eight after returning from many foreign countries.

Sajid Javid, the health secretary, launched a review into pricing and service standards of all test providers ​this month after complaints from users about the expense and pressure to act from MPs.

Announcing the outcome, Javid said: “It is absolutely unacceptable for any private testing company to be taking advantage of holidaymakers and today’s action clamps down on this cowboy behaviour.

“Fifty-seven firms will be removed from the list and a further 82 will be given a two-strike warning – if they advertise misleading prices ever again, they’re off.

“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.”

The NHS official test and trace package for international arrivals has been reduced from £88 to £68 for green or fully vaccinated amber arrivals, and from £170 to £136 for two tests for amber arrivals who are not fully vaccinated.

A warning from the Competition and Markets Authority

The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has now joined the debate and has issued its own warning. It has stated that rogue companies could face enforcement action from the CMA itself or from National Trading Standards if they are found to be breaking consumer law by misleading customers or treating them unfairly.

In an open letter to PCR test firms, the details of which can be found on the UK government’s website, the CMA’s general counsel, Sarah Cardell, said: “PCR test providers should be in no doubt that they need to get on the right side of the law. If they don’t, they risk enforcement action.

“This warning goes hand in hand with action taken by government this week and is the latest step in our work to tackle rip-off prices and bad service. We continue to work closely with [the Department of Health and Social Care] in reviewing this market and will be providing further advice to DHSC on action that can be taken.”

The letter highlights practices including:

  • Advertising test prices that do not include additional charges.
  • Advertising cheap tests that are not available or only in small quantities.
  • Failing to deliver tests or provide results on time, or at all.
  • Refusing to provide refunds when consumers are let down.

Where to find the latest Covid immigration guidance

Optimus Law welcomes this intervention by the government and the CMA. It can be hard enough arriving in the UK without cowboy companies looking to take advantage of an already bad situation that is being forced upon us because of the pandemic.

Read the latest Covid-19 immigration and borders guidance on the UK government’s website.

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