The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has warned that business selling rapid antigen tests will be called out if they sell their tests at excessively inflated prices.
The ACCC states it has significant concerns about the retail price of tests, with some often costing between $20-30 per test and sometimes over $70 a test through smaller retail outlets. This is despite wholesale costs ranging between $3.95 and $11.45 a test.
The ACCC was prompted to voice its concerns following information from the public, suppliers and retailers about the cost and prices of rapid antigen tests.
It has received more than 1800 reports from consumers about rapid antigen tests since Christmas Day last year, and is now averaging close to 150 reports a day.
"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 Chairman 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."
The ACCC's initial analysis shows increasing sales by service stations and convenience stores. These channels have become a common source of the pricing issues consumers have reported, the ACCC states.
"We are looking in particular at reports of single tests being sold at around $30 or above from certain stores. For example, such sales have occurred from a number of King of the Pack and Metro Petroleum stores. 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," Mr Sims said.
A member of the Everything Sutherland Shire Facebook group posted a comment on the page that a Metro Service Station at Jannali was "splitting up boxes and selling them for $25 each". But when asked about the availability of rapid antigen tests, the station attendant said when tests were in stock about two weeks ago, they were being sold at $30 for a pack of two tests, or for $70 for a pack of five tests.
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.
The most reported traders are pharmacies, followed by convenience stores, tobacconists and supermarkets and petrol stations.
"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," Mr Sims said.
"Only a few weeks ago tests were readily available at most chemists and supermarkets for around $10 for a single test."
"We realise demand and supply chain issues have impacted since then, but our initial research suggests that a price of around $20 per test or more, however packaged, may be hard to justify based on the average wholesale costs and such retailers should explain why the price is so high.
"As supply chain issues ease and orders arrive, consumers should be able to access tests at more reasonable prices."
"Any test costing more than $30, even with supply constraints, is almost certainly too expensive and would seem to be taking advantage of the current circumstances."
In certain circumstances, excessive pricing of essential goods or services may also be unconscionable conduct, a potential breach of the Australian Consumer Law.
"We are [also] 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," Mr Sims said.
Online marketplaces including eBay, Kogan, Gumtree and Facebook have updated or introduced new sales policies to cover rapid antigen tests. While some platforms allow their retailers to sell tests, most are removing listings where individuals are seeking to resell tests.
The selling of separated individual tests from multi-packs was also a significant issue reported to the ACCC, and is an issue also being addressed by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).
Consumers have reported packs being split and sold in individual lots, sometimes without instructions for their use, and tests approved for clinical or professional use being sold directly to consumers.
The ACCC is working with the Australian Federal Police on matters that may be a breach of the determination under the Biosecurity Act introduced by the government recently, which came into force on January 8, 2022, and will remain in place until February 17. It prohibits a person from re-selling, or offering to resell, rapid antigen tests bought at retail level for mark-ups above 20 per cent.
Consumers can report concerns directly to the TGA via ECT@health.gov.au