The big news from last week’s UK announcement on reforming private competition enforcement is that the government plans to introduce opt-out class actions for competition claims.
The proposals incorporate various “safeguards” designed to ensure that the perceived excesses of US class actions do not become a problem here. Some of the safeguards are really no more than statements of the obvious – no-one can be surprised that we will not have US-style triple damages, or that law firms won’t be able to bring a claim without even having a claimant. On the other hand, some safeguards – such as the prohibition on contingency fees – will surely serve to limit the usefulness of UK class actions.
Financing aside, the big unanswered question is how attractive claimants will find such class actions (or “collective actions”, as the government prefers to call them, emphasising the differences with the US). Continue reading
On 25 October 2012 the Office of Fair Trading announced that it had written to the head teachers of almost 30,000 State schools to draw attention to the high price of school uniforms. The high price is caused in part by 74% of schools requiring parents to purchase uniforms from a single, named retailer or from the school itself. This has created a captive market for chosen suppliers, allowing them to charge an additional £52 million per year (see para 2.3 of the OFT’s 2006 school uniforms review).
The October 2012 letter advises schools either to cease specifying from whom uniforms may be obtained, or to award the right to supply on a basis that takes into account the cost to parents. The letter does not specify what the OFT will do if the schools fail to comply, but I want to suggest that action against the schools is possible under the Competition Act 1998. Continue reading
Filed under Abuse, Policy
On 16 August 2012 the Office of Fair Trading revealed that eight NHS trusts had been engaged in the exchange of commercially sensitive information. The information related to the price each would charge self-paying patients, or patients’ insurers, for treatment in a hospital operated by an NHS trust when that treatment was privately funded. The file was closed when the OFT received assurances that the information exchange had ceased and that the parties would provide their staff with training on competition law compliance.
In the press release the OFT said: “We urge all Trusts to take steps to ensure they are compliant with competition law when engaging in commercial activity.” This of course begs a question: when are NHS bodies engaged in commercial activity? This question becomes more pressing from April 2013, when Monitor, at present the independent regulator for NHS foundation trusts, gains power under sections 72 and 73 of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 to apply competition law in the health sector. Continue reading