Competition watchdog sends tough message to business cheats with cartel campaign

The competition watchdog is calling for more whistleblowers to expose business cartels which are “ripping off” customers by fixing prices and rigging contracts.

A survey by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) found that just 57 per cent of firms knew that fixing prices was illegal and almost half thought it was legal to discuss prices with competing bidders when quoting for new work.

More than half of those polled thought that dividing up and sharing customers with rivals was legal or didn’t know whether it was or wasn’t.

To combat the problem, the CMA is launching a new awareness campaign to inform businesses of the law around cartel behaviour.

Action has already been taken against a number of companies including water tank firms who were fined over £2.6m, after they formed a cartel to divide up customers, fix minimum prices and share commercially sensitive information for tanks used in large construction projects such as schools and hospitals.

The campaign is targeting industries including construction, manufacturing, recruitment, estate agents and property management and maintenance which are particularly susceptible to cartels. 

Previous campaigns have driven a 30 per cent rise in the number of tip-offs to the CMA’s cartels hotline.

The regulator said it has issued over £155m in fines for anti-competitive practices since April 2015 and it is currently investigating 15 cases.

“Businesses that fix prices or rig contracts are breaking the law and ripping people off,” said Howard Cartlidge, senior director of cartels at the CMA.

“The victims are customers and other businesses, who are getting cheated out of a fair deal. We know that the vast majority of businesses want to do the right thing, but pleading ignorance simply isn’t good enough. If you know of something illegal – do the right thing and tell us about it.”

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