Dirty rats: Consumer watchdog chases down virus test price rip-offs

The competition watchdog has announced an investigation into the pricing of rapid antigen testing, after “significant public concern’’ and claims of price gouging.

Jan 04, 2022, updated Jan 04, 2022
Tempers are fraying over long wait times and price escalation for RATs

Tempers are fraying over long wait times and price escalation for RATs

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission said it would be contacting suppliers and monitoring the situation very closely. 

Chairman Rod Sims warned he would name and shame retailers engaging in the “appalling” conduct.

“(Businesses) shouldn’t be engaging in cartel conduct,” he said.

“We have the ability to name and shame people if they are doing the wrong thing… (and that) is extremely powerful.”

Among some of the worst examples were online trading sites, like Gumtree, Kogan and eBay, where the tests have been sold well above normal prices – some for as much as $150 each.

The authority has also heard of multi-packs being split up and each test sold for the price of an entire pack.

“I find it hard to criticise retailers, be they chemists or supermarkets if they are actually rationing… to make sure that each customer gets a couple rather than five,” Sims said.

“But if they are taking them out of the packet and, instead of charging $75 for the packet, charging $75 for each test, that is appalling behaviour and that is behaviour we would most certainly deal with.”

The Federal Opposition used the public concern to attack the Government which has so far refused to make the tests free because it would undercut retailers.

Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers said “people are getting absolutely smashed, paying $30, $40 and $50 for a test that should be in the single digits of dollars’’.

“That’s because the Government won’t empower the ACCC to do its work here,” Chalmers told the Today program.

However, the ACCC said it had sufficient power to investigate.

It said it would be examining claims that the current pricing levels of RATs were due to challenges in obtaining supply of those tests.

“We are also asking them about their current stock levels, and the amounts on order, and about their expectations about when additional tests may become readily available to consumers,” Sims said.

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“We are also contacting major retailers and pharmacies seeking similar information and reminding them that they need to be able to substantiate any claims they make to consumers about the reason for higher prices.”

“The ACCC has established a team to work on the issues,” he said.

The ACCC said that while suppliers were generally able to set their own prices, businesses must not make false or misleading statements about the reason for high prices.

“In certain circumstances, excessive pricing of essential goods or services may also be unconscionable.

“Businesses must also set their prices independently of their competitors and not collude about pricing’’.

The ACCC will review the information received from suppliers, retailers and the public.

“We’ve also had over 100 consumer contacts to our Infocentre or through the online form. We will review the information received and investigate the evidence to determine if there is conduct that raises concerns,” Sims said.

“The ACCC is monitoring the situation and will take appropriate action under its existing powers.  The ACCC has not sought, and does not need, more powers to deal with the current situation. “

-with AAP

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