Putting consumers before competition

Ombudsman Services | Mar 07, 2019

As an ombudsman, our day-to-day job is to resolve disputes between consumers and businesses that belong to our scheme.

Looking at the bigger picture, part of our long-term mission is to help reduce and ultimately end consumer detriment.

That’s why we were encouraged by the UK competition watchdog’s recent announcement that it wants to put consumers at the heart of the competition regime. Unveiling a package of reforms, Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) chairman Lord Tyrie said:

“The UK is an excellent place to do business, one in which innovation and dynamic companies can thrive. But the growth of new and rapidly emerging forms of consumer detriment, partly caused by digitisation, and the public’s increasing doubt about whether markets work for their benefit, both now require a response.

He added:

“We have an analogue system of competition and consumer law in a digital age. Similar observations are being made about comparable regimes elsewhere in the world. Reform is essential. Hence these far-reaching proposals, which will enable the CMA to act more rapidly, and put the consumer first, so as to make the CMA more effective in the third decade of the 21st century.”

So, what would the proposals actually involve? The package includes:

  • a new statutory duty on the CMA – and courts applying competition and consumer laws – to treat the interests of consumers and their protection from detriment as paramount;
  • a new statutory duty on the CMA to conduct its investigations quickly, supported by powers to take action against firms supplying misleading or false information; and
  • a statutory responsibility to address the adverse effect on the consumer in all aspects of the CMA’s work.

David Pilling, head of lobbying and policy at Ombudsman Services, welcomed the proposals. He said:

“The CMA has a vital role to play in the UK economy and society. We agree that the twin challenges posed by the growth of the digital economy, and declining public confidence in market competition, require reforms to competition and consumer protection law and policy. Placing consumers at the heart of these reforms is right and we look forward to working with the CMA and other stakeholders on this new approach.”