The Laboratory and Testing Industry Organisation Code of Conduct
It is a condition of membership of the Laboratory and Testing Industry Organisation (LTIO) that members accept and agree to abide by this Code of Conduct at all times.
All members providing testing services to the general public will need to be able to demonstrate that they can deliver test results in a timely and reliable manner. For the year after the trade association is founded, or until such time as an independent mark of quality system is established, companies which provide testing services direct to the public will be eligible to apply for membership only if they have a Trust Pilot rating of 3.5 or above.
This Code is based on the guidance issued by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) on 25th August 2021, which made the following recommendations:
- PCR test providers should not focus their advertising on cheap tests which are only available in very small quantities or not at all. This includes pricing information provided to GOV.UK or other websites. Certain types of ‘bait’ advertising4 are banned outright under the CPRs. Providing false or misleading information about the prices and availability of PCR tests at certain prices is also liable to breach the CPRs more generally.
- Prices shown should be the total cost, including all compulsory charges (i.e., charges which consumers cannot avoid). There should be no hidden charges. Once a consumer selects optional extra products or services, the cost of these should then also be included in the price displayed. The misleading presentation of prices is liable to breach the CPRs.
- Any requirements or particular steps a consumer must take to obtain their test or results, for example having to attend a particular location at a particular time, should be clearly disclosed in advertising and up- front on provider’s websites. Leaving out or hiding important information about the specification of PCR tests is also liable to breach the CPRs.
- Terms and conditions used by PCR test providers must be fair. Terms will be unfair under the CRA if they tilt the rights and responsibilities between the consumer and the trader too much in favor of the trader. All contract terms and notices must be transparent. Not only must PCR test providers use easy-to-understand, legible and plain English but the wording used must allow consumers to make informed choices. Unfair terms are not binding on consumers. The CRA also singles out terms that take away or reduce your customer’s statutory rights (including those mentioned above in relation to advertised timescales).5 They are described as being ‘blacklisted’ because they are never enforceable against consumers. Relying on unfair or ‘blacklisted’ terms may also breach the CPRs.
- Terms and conditions should be clear and easy to find, and should not hide important information in the ‘small print’. Terms that have a significant impact for consumers should be particularly drawn to their attention. Terms which are difficult to find or unclear are more likely to be unfair. Failing to clearly set out relevant terms and conditions may also breach the CPRs and the CCRs.
- PCR test providers should not use terms which remove or limit their liability to consumers where the provider is at fault and things go wrong. This includes terms that prevent or hinder consumers from seeking redress (e.g. compensation) when providers are at fault. Such terms are likely to be unfair and unenforceable under the CRA.
- Information on the timescales for receiving tests and results should be honest, accurate and clear. False or misleading information about when tests or results will be received is liable to breach the CPRs.
- PCR test providers should also ensure that PCR tests and results are provided within advertised timescales. Under the CRA if a PCR test provider makes statements about how quickly PCR tests or their results will be received, which a consumer is likely to see, then the provider is likely to find itself legally bound to meet those timescales. Failure to do so will be a breach of contract and consumers will also be legally entitled to an appropriate refund. This should be provided without undue delay, and no later than 14 days from the day the provider agrees that a consumer is entitled to a refund. These rights are in addition to any available under the general law and, as noted above, cannot be excluded.
- PCR test providers should ensure any terms and conditions or policies on cancellations and refunds are fair and reflect consumers’ statutory rights. Terms which say no refund is available in any circumstances, or impose disproportionate cancellation charges, are likely to be unfair under the CRA. Providers should also respect any applicable statutory cancellation and refund rights under the CCRs,7 as well as the rights noted above where providers are at fault.
- PCR test providers should ensure that they provide an adequate level of customer service. Poor customer service, for example setting up processes that are difficult to access, complex to use or not clearly presented, which prevents or makes it difficult for consumers to exercise their rights is liable to breach the CPRs.
The Code does not mean the CMA endorses or oversees the work of the LTIO. Members of the LTIO must adhere to each of these 10 pieces of guidance. In addition, it is a requirement of this Code that members must act all times in a manner which does not bring the industry into disrepute.
2. Code Enforcement
All complaints should be submitted to the Company Secretary, who may clarify the nature of the complaint with the complainant, and will decided whether a prima facie case for investigation exists. Vexatious complaints will not be considered.
In the first instance where a prima facie case for investigation is determined, the LTIO secretariat will attempt a process of mediation and arbitration between complainant and member. Where this is not satisfactory to both parties, the formal complaint will be handed to the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR).
The CEDR conclusion will be binding on all parties, including the LTIO.
All parties shall bear their own costs in this complaints process.
The Advisory Board may at its discretion make public the conclusions of the CEDR process.
3. Overview and Review of the Code of Conduct
The Code will be reviewed by the LTIO Advisory Board at least annually, under the guidance of the Institute for Business Ethics, whose recommendations will not be rejected without good reason.
Upon publication of any relevant guidance by the CMA, it is the default position of the LTIO for that to be reflected automatically in the Code.