Office of Fair Trading and Competition Commission to Merge

Author:Ms Susan Hankey and David Marks
Profession:CMS Cameron McKenna LLP

The UK Government's Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) announced on 14 October 2010 that the Competition Commission (CC) and the competition and merger investigation functions of the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) would be combined in one authority devoted to competition and markets. At the same time, OFT functions in relation to consumer issues would be transferred to other bodies. This proposal comes as part of the wider reform of the administration of government and the review of public bodies announced by the Cabinet Office, details of which can be found here.

The stated aim of the Government in combining the CC and OFT is to strengthen the competition regime, to streamline procedure and to make it less burdensome while delivering cost savings. A final decision from the Government as to the exact form of the new body will follow a public consultation in 2011.

Under the proposal, which can be found here the new combined OFT-CC body would be responsible for:

Merger regulation Market investigations Cartel and antitrust cases Functions, to be specified, in relation to regulated utilities. The proposed merger will be met with approval in some quarters where the feeling is that the overlap between the OFT and the CC can produce delays and add unnecessary expense. On the other hand there are concerns that the powers of any new body should not be diminished in terms of its capacity to deal with large business interests.

Enforcement of consumer law is currently shared between the OFT and Trading Standards. Consumer complaints are handled by a number of bodies including the Citizens Advice Bureau, Consumer Direct (which is operated by the OFT) and Consumer Focus. Research and advocacy work is handled by the OFT, Consumer Focus and some specific...

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