Fair Trade Powers-(09.06.02)

The Enterprise Bill currently going through Parliament gives enhanced powers to the Office of Fair Trading, with stated aims to boost competition and productivity through reforming consumer, insolvency and competition law. The legislation is framed in a way that judges activities in the way that they are seen to disadvantage consumers. The powers relate to an investigation on this basis and allow seizure of documents, either hard copy or held on company IT systems. These powers can be used based on a roaming brief for the OFT to investigate whatever markets it sees fit.

This differes from the past where the OFT was limited to investigate on instructions from politicians. It also had limited ability to request documentation from parties under investigation. Predictably the CBI has stated that it believes that OFT investigations under the new environment could be unnecessary and damaging to the firms involved, reducing productivity and competition due to the costs to industry of being prepared should the OFT require documentation from them.

The key from our point of interest will be to see how the OFT balances and measures the interests of consumers with the costs to industry. It is clear that the OFT, as opposed to the Competition Commission will be focussed on consumers rather than market structure.