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20 Oct 2021

Travellers have no right to timely PCR results, some major Covid testing firms' T&Cs suggest

A number of covid testing firms, including some of the country's biggest, have it written into their terms and conditions that they don't have to get you your result on time.

The UK's largest test provider, Randox, has a clause that states 'time is not of the essence', as do many other firms. But getting a result on time can be crucial for being able to catch a flight overseas, or leave quarantine to travel or go to work.

One provider, Nationwide Pathology, states that 'the service is deemed to have been provided in full by the Supplier by providing the Client with their Passenger Locator Number.'

Legally it appears to be saying that it doesn't have to provide the result or even the test kit itself to have fulfilled the contract with those buying test kits.

Another provider, Expert Medicals, is even worse. Its terms and conditions are riddled with the kind of clauses that are likely to be blacklisted under the Consumer Rights Act for trying to avoid firms' legal obligations. Expert Medicals was removed from the gov.uk list after we reported it for other failings in September and is currently being investigated by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

See here for the most reliable, cheap day 2 Covid tests, according to our research.

Your rights when you buy a Covid test for travel

The government said recently that when you buy a test from a private provider your rights are protected in the same way as they would be if you buy anything else.

That means that firms are obliged to refund you if they don't manage to provide the service that you've paid for. Under the Consumer Rights Act they have to exercise 'reasonable care and skill' and that should include meeting reasonable turnaround times.

It's also now a legal requirement for firms selling day 2 and day 8 PCR tests to get the results to the customer and Public Health England within 48-hours of the tests being received by the laboratory. If they don't they can be fined.

Covid test providers respond

Despite this, even some of the most reliable day 2 test providers that we looked at included a similar 'time is not of the essence' clause. One provider, Source Bioscience, told us: 'Like most test providers, we recognise that there are a high number of factors that can impact turnaround time, with a good many outside our control.'

Randox denied that its terms were unfair or unlawful and said that 'it prides itself on the service provided to the public.' It also said that 99.9% of results were returned within 24-hours of receipt, for recent test samples returned through its dropboxes.

Nationwide Pathology and Expert Medicals did not respond to a request for comment.

One provider, Rainbow Labs, did agree to scrap a clause that we highlighted as unfair. It told us: 'Our lawyers are currently revising the T&Cs, in line with the new regulations around turnaround times.'

New testing rules for travel

From 24 October, PCR tests will no longer be required for fully vaccinated travellers entering England from overseas. Instead you'll be required to purchase a lateral flow, also known as rapid antigen, test from certain designated suppliers.

You won't be allowed to use free NHS tests. Instead you'll have to book your private lateral flow test before coming into the country, add the booking reference to your passenger locator form ahead of travelling, and then take a photo of the result to send to the provider. A list of approved providers will be published by the government on 22 October.

You can see more information on the new rules for travel testing here.