Do Those Cheap, Over-The Counter Paternity Tests Actually Work?
Shops and supermarkets sell DNA testing kits for as little as £5. Are they worth it?
UK discount store Home Bargains famously sells a home paternity test kit that costs just £4.99. The kit contains a set of mouth swabs (one for the child, one for the potential father), consent forms, and envelopes used to send the completed kit to a UK testing lab. The company that produces the tests promise to analyse your samples and have your results ready the next working day, using cutting-edge DNA science.
According to the Home Bargains website, the testing lab uses "24 markers, giving the most accurate result possible, using up to the minute technology" and the testing technology is "used by TV shows such as The Jeremy Kyle Show and media companies."
If that sounds like an outrageously cheap deal, well that's because it is. The £4.99 price tag is merely the cost of the box and its contents—the lab charges an additional processing fee of £99 for doing the actual scientific testing. So the real price you pay is £103.99.
It's worth noting that you can order the exact same kit online, direct from the testing company, which they will ship out for an up-front £99 fee—cutting out the middleman and the £4.99 you would pay in store.
And it's not just Home Bargains that sell over-the-counter DNA tests. Pharmacies such as Boots (in the UK) and CVS (in the States) sell similar kits with a similar pricing structure—i.e. you pay a small price at the till plus an additional lab fee for processing your results.
This raises a couple of questions then—is a store-bought paternity test the same as an online paternity test? Is one more accurate than the other? Is there any benefit to be gained from paying extra in the store?
Let's take a look at these questions one at a time...
Are the tests different?
The short answer is... not really. The contents of a standard paternity testing kit will be identical, regardless of whether you buy it in a store or direct from the laboratory.
A paternity testing kit generally includes a set of mouth swabs, consent forms, and envelopes for sending everything back to lab. If you order your kit direct, you can request extra swabs—for example, if you wish to test more than one possible father. Note that if you add an extra father to the test, there will be additional fees.
Shops and pharmacies generally only sell paternity tests, as they are the most popular & frequently ordered type of test. If you order online however, you can choose other types of relationship tests, such as maternity, sibling, Y chromosome, twin (zygosity) or aunt/uncle (avuncular) testing.
Is one type of test more accurate than the other?
Regardless of how you buy the kit, it will ultimately end up back in the same lab and undergo the same testing process carried out by the same scientists with the same equipment. There is no difference in terms of accuracy.
You should only order a DNA test (store bought or online) from an ISO accredited laboratory. Companies usually display their accreditation on their website. You can also search for accredited companies at ukas.com.
ISO 17025 is a quality standard that applies specifically to testing and calibration laboratories.
Is there any point paying £5 extra in a store?
There is one major benefit when it comes to buying a test kit over the counter—time.
If you order a test online or over the phone from a lab, it will take a minimum of one day for the kit to arrive in the post. It could possibly take another day for your completed samples to get back to the lab, then an additional day for your results to be processed. But if you live near a shop that sells testing kits, you can potentially save an entire day of waiting around for your results.
And if you are really desperate for answers, some DNA companies offer a same-day service for an additional fee.
Testing for 'Peace of Mind'
One thing that we haven't mentioned so far is the difference between a 'Peace of Mind' test and a 'Legal' test. A kit you buy in a pharmacy can only be used as a Peace of Mind (POM) test. Because you provide the samples yourself with no witnesses, the results—although accurate—cannot be used in court or to settle legal matters.
Peace of Mind Test:
- Provide the samples by yourself
- Fill in your own paperwork
- Mail the samples yourself
- Results are not usable for legal purposes
- Samples are taken by a sample collector or medical professional
- Sample collector completes the paperwork & checks your ID
- Samples are transported under a controlled chain of custody
- Results can be used to settle legal matters
If you require a legal test—for example to support a child custody dispute, to change a birth certificate or to aid an immigration case—you will need to contact the testing company and arrange for a professional sample collector to come and take your samples. Because of the extra work involved, legal tests are slightly more expensive.
- Buying a DNA test from a pharmacy is convenient if you don't mind paying an extra £5
- The contents of a store-bought testing kit are essentially the same as what you would get direct from the lab
- The results are accurate - but are only for your own peace of mid
- Always use an accredited lab