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Consumer watchdog flooded with complaints over rapid test pricing

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Australia’s consumer watchdog says it has service stations and convenience stores in its crosshairs after receiving more than 1800 complaints about rapid antigen test (RAT) rorts.

Numerous truckies have also contacted Big Rigs in recent weeks, frustrated by the  increasing scarcity and the soaring prices. One large transport operator also told us he’d had his RAT supply commandered by the government as it scrambles to meet the new demands.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) said it has contacted more than 40 suppliers, major retailers and pharmacy chains seeking information about their costs, current pricing and stock availability.

“At the extreme end, we have received reports or seen media coverage of tests costing up to $500 for two tests through online marketplaces, and over $70 per test through convenience stores, service stations and independent supermarkets, which is clearly outrageous,” ACCC chair Rod Sims said.

“There are several businesses that have repeatedly come to our notice thanks to the information provided by the public. We are asking those businesses to urgently explain the prices they are charging.

“We are looking in particular at reports of single tests being sold at around $30 or above from certain stores.”

Sims said such sales have occurred from a number of King of the Pack and Metro Petroleum stores (70 and 40 complaints respectively).

“However, I want to emphasise the complaints are limited to a small number of individual stores in these chains and the majority of stores in those chains have not been the subject of complaints to us.

“We are writing to those traders to validate the reports and asking them to explain their prices so we can work out what’s going on.”

Most reports received by the ACCC are about businesses selling tests in New South Wales. More than 90 per cent of reports received by the ACCC relate to the prices of the RATs.

The ACCC is also continuing to investigate potential scams after receiving increasing reports of online stores wrongly accepting payment, meaning the stores did not intend to supply the tests or knew, or should have known, that they would not be able to supply the tests in a timely manner.

From January 7, the average and the highest prices reported to the ACCC have increased to around $24 and $80 to $100, respectively. The highest price reported for a single test is $100.

“In the middle of a significant outbreak of Covid-19 in a pandemic, the excessive pricing of rapid antigen tests required to diagnose the illness and protect other members of the public, is of significant concern to the ACCC,” Sims said.

“Only a few weeks ago tests were readily available at most chemists and supermarkets for around $10 for a single test.”

Some retailers are also reportedly refusing to provide receipts or providing incorrect receipts to consumers.

“The reports we’ve received about this issue relate mostly to convenience stores, tobacconists, and supermarkets (31 per cent of reports), pharmacies (27 per cent), and petrol stations (23 per cent).

Reports include a convenience store recording the sale of tests as a ‘sandwich’, while other retailers reportedly require customers to pay in cash and refuse to issue a receipt.

“We are closely examining reports of businesses refusing to issue receipts for rapid antigen tests. Refusal to provide receipts when requested or for total purchases of $75 or more (excluding GST) is a breach of the Australian Consumer Law. Businesses could face penalties for this conduct,” Sims said.

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