Coronavirus – price increases / rip off

Retailers are increasing their prices during the corona virus outbreak – what can Trading Standards do?

There is no law that says retailers cannot increase prices as and when they want. We live in a supposedly capitalist free market economy so retailers can price goods depending on demand.

Until such a law is introduced, nothing can be done by way of enforcement from Trading Standards.

It may be immoral, but Trading Standards deal in law, not morals.

It has been suggested that these practices could be what is known as an ‘aggressive practice’ under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. I am not convinced that increasing prices in this type of scenario is an aggressive practice. For me an aggressive practice is when a consumer is pressured into doing something.

If you walk into a shop and see a pack of toilet rolls for £15 – how are you being coerced or unduly influenced into buying it? You have the free choice to walk out and shop elsewhere. I don’t think this law was designed to deal with this type of issue.

The Competition and Markets Authority have put out press releases suggesting they can take action – whats the deal?

The Competition and Markets Authority is a national regulator – they deal with competition and consumer protection matters.

On 5 March 2020 they put out this press release which does suggest that retailers increasing prices may be doing something wrong and they may face enforcement action.

I have seen quite a bit of activity that references this press release (i.e people recommending to others that they report anything they feel is a rip off).

On 20 March 2020, the Competition and Markets Authority put out another press release which you can read here.

I am not sure what laws the Competition and Markets Authority think are being broken.

I would think the most likely outcome is that they suggest to the Government that new laws are created to deal with this problem.

The Competition and Markets Authority do not take complaints directly from the public so I do feel their press releases should be a bit more clearer about what they actually can do and whether (and to whom) people should complain/send in information.

I would also be quite surprised if the Competition and Markets Authority actually took direct action against one of the many (mostly small) businesses that are increasing their prices. They should be focusing their resources on the more serious problems caused by large businesses.

Will new laws be created?

Because the corona virus issue may last for a long time – there is a possibility that new laws will be created if there continue to be shortage of goods.
This may stop a lot of the price increases but where there is non compliance it is not clear who would enforce the law and what the consequence of breaking the law would be.

Should I report it?

You can report these issues via the Citizens Advice Consumer Service.

For the reasons i have given, there is nothing to say any action will be taken with your complaint.

The Competition and Markets Authority may use the data to inform them of what is going on – but to be honest it only takes 5 minutes on Twitter to see how many businesses are increasing prices in response to the corona virus outbreak.

UPDATE – 22/03/2020

The Competition and Markets Authority now have a form you can use to report the matter directly to them – this can be found on the link below.

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