Free RAT tests in Australia: Who can get one and where are they?

Posted: 24 January 2022 1:34 pm
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Find out if you qualify for a free rapid antigen test kit now available for over 6 million Australians.

The Concessional Access RAT program (CRTCA) launched today in all Australian states and territories. As the name implies, the program will provide free rapid antigen test (RAT) kits to eligible concession card holders.

"This temporary program enables eligible people to access rapid antigen tests, to be more confident engaging in your regular activities, while protecting yourself and others from COVID-19," explains the Pharmacy Guild of Australia.

"The Australian Government and state and territory governments are jointly funding this program to provide rapid antigen tests to eligible people at no cost."

Here's what you need to know.

Who can get a free Rapid antigen test?

Those who hold one of the following Commonwealth concession cards are eligible for free RAT kits:

  • Commonwealth Seniors Health Card
  • Department of Veteran's Affairs Gold, White or Orange Card
  • Health Care Card
  • Low Income Health Card
  • Pensioner Concession Card

Where do I get my free rapid antigen test?

To receive your free tests, you will need to head into a participating pharmacy and show your Commonwealth concession card. Once collected, you can take the test yourself at home. (See our guide to rapid antigen tests.)

The Pharmacy Guild of Australia has a Pharmacy Finder that will show you the nearest participating pharmacy to your location.

You can also use the crowd sourced Find-a-RAT website to see which pharmacies have stock available.

How many free RATs can I get in total?

People who are eligible for the Concessional Access RAT program can access up to 10 RATs over a 3-month period. However, there is a limit of 5 RATs in any single month.

How many tests can I receive at once?

A minimum of 2 RATs will be given per individual. Alternatively, you can ask for the monthly limit of 5 RATs all at the same time. However, this will be "subject to availability".

Will there be enough rapid antigen tests to go around?

That's the million dollar question. According to the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, more tests will be available from pharmacies and other retailers "over time". This suggests availability may be limited to begin with.

"Before planning a trip to your local community pharmacy we recommend you phone ahead of your visit to make sure new supplies have arrived," the Pharmacy Guild suggests.

As you can see in the graph below, stock levels have been slowly improving over the past few days:

However, don't be surprised if that percentage dips during the week.

What information do I have to give up?

To access their free RATs, eligible concession card holders must agree to provide their concession card number to a participating pharmacy. The pharmacy will record the concession card details to confirm they are valid. (These details will be recorded into ProjectCOVID for supply, compliance and Community Pharmacy reimbursement purposes.)

They will also check how many free RATs were previously received to ensure the monthly quota is not exceeded.

Do students need to access this program to return to school?

No. State governments are responsible for rapid antigen testing in schools, which do not fall under the Concessional Access RAT program. All students will be provided with free RATs when schools return to face-to-face learning.

How long will the program run for?

The CRTCA Program will operate from Monday 24 January to Saturday 30 April 2022.

Can anyone else get a free test?

If you have COVID-19 symptoms you can attend a testing clinic and receive a free test there. School students and teachers will soon be eligible for free RAT kits as part of the return to school strategy.

Otherwise, non-concession card holders will need to purchase their RAT kit. You can see a list of online sellers below.


RAT fact sheet

What are home rapid antigen tests?

Rapid antigen tests are COVID-19 tests that produce quick results when you test for COVID-19 at home, which is highly convenient for busy families with young children.

  • How it works. Samples are placed in an extraction buffer or reagent and tested for the presence of SARS-CoV-2-specific virus proteins (also called antigens).
  • What it tests. It tests for a current COVID-19 infection.
  • How samples are collected. Samples are collected through a nose, throat or oral swab.
  • How long does it take? It usually takes 10-15 minutes to see the results.

How do I know if a RAT is legitimate?

Rapid antigen tests have been available to buy in Australia since 1 November 2021. However, rapid antigen tests have become more difficult to purchase since the outbreak of the Omicron variant and the rapid rise in case numbers.

It's also worth noting that all COVID-19 testing kits require Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) approval and inclusion in the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG) to be legally supplied in Australia. Dozens of kits from different companies have been assessed by the TGA. Approved kits must meet the following criteria:

  • Instructions for use are written in a way that all consumers can understand.
  • Usability testing has been successful.
  • Self-tests perform satisfactorily against variants such as Delta and Omicron.

When purchasing a test kit for your child, always purchase from a reliable retailer or website and ensure that the above criteria are met.

Is home testing as effective as going to a clinic?

No. The chief benefit of rapid antigen testing is speed and simplicity, which is essential when you have kids. Unlike PCR testing, the RAT kit doesn't need to be administered by a medical professional or sent to a lab. You can do it by yourself at home. On the downside, they aren't as reliable. If you need to book a PCR test, we have information in this guide.

My kid has a positive RAT result, do I need to tell someone?

Yes. At the time of writing, if you record a positive test for your child in Victoria, Tasmania or New South Wales, you need to register with your state health authority. It's expected that all states and territories will soon adopt this requirement.

Victoria is the first state to include rapid antigen test results in its daily reporting numbers, not just PCR tests. That led to a significant spike in reported numbers over the weekend.

The federal government also announced that as of 10 January, a positive rapid antigen test can also be used to claim the Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment.

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