Some passengers arriving in the UK are forced to extend their quarantine because private labs are failing to deliver Covid-19 tests on time.
An investigation by consumer advocate Which? found travellers were paying hundreds of pounds to alternative test providers, while others were missing work as they were required to stay at home.
Anyone arriving in the UK must quarantine at home for a mandatory 10 days. Travellers are required to take a PCR test on day two and day eight of their quarantine, and are allowed to leave quarantine if they test negative twice.
Arrivals from red-list countries must quarantine in a government-approved hotel – with tests supplied as part of the £1,750 accommodation package.
Tests delivered to households by private providers typically cost £160 to £200, but some are more than £500, Which? found.
Travellers are not entitled to free tests supplied by the National Health Service.
But it is understood only four private test providers of more than 500 on a government list are accredited.
There are concerns that the travel test system – already struggling to handle demand – could be overwhelmed when travel restrictions are lifted.
Erkal Taskin, who returned from Turkey after visiting his ill father in early April, said he didn’t receive his day-two test kit from government-listed provider Anglia until a week after arrival.
He received his day-two result 15 days after arrival and he is still to receive his day-eight result.
“I wasn't sure when I could leave my house and there was no one to ask,” he said.
“I ended up waiting for so long before I could go back to work, which was a huge problem.”
Another traveller complained on Trustpilot about a different provider, claiming that after failing to receive day-two test results, they paid for a ‘Day Five Test to Release Kit’ – which would have allowed an early end to quarantine on receipt of a negative result.
The traveller said “now on day nine, we still have no results, so it was a waste of £110 plus £175”.
Royal Mail said there were no reported delays in its network related to use of the company’s priority post boxes for managing travellers’ test results, after some providers blamed delayed postal deliveries.
Oncologica, one of the largest laboratories to partner many government-listed test providers, apologised for delays and said there has been an “unprecedented increase in Covid testing enquiries and kit orders received since government travel rules were introduced”.
Nationwide Pathology, another major private test supplier, also apologised for “large scale disruption to the delivery of both kits and samples”.
Travel editor at Which? Adam Boland said the system couldn’t cope with the current level of demand.
“It’s clear the system could buckle under the pressure when mass international travel restarts and hundreds of thousands more people are reliant on it,” he said.
“Travellers shouldn’t have to shop around for something as crucial as a test provider – they simply need a service that is accessible, reliable and delivered on time. It is critical that the government addresses issues with testing ahead of restarting international travel.”
A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said it raised every public complaint with private test providers.
“We also monitor all providers’ performance, including their delivery and test turnaround times,” he said.
“We will take rapid action against any company that is providing an inadequate service. In the first instance, they will receive a warning and are given five days to demonstrate they have addressed concerns, and if not, they are removed from the gov.uk list.”