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Out-Law News 1 min. read

UK competition authority to review the way it conducts market investigations

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in the UK is to review the way it conducts market investigations, it has announced.

The regulator said the review would begin once its investigations into the energy and retail banking markets have ended. The CMA made the announcement in its new annual plan for 2016/17 (40-page / 351KB PDF). It said its review would allow it to "identify opportunities to improve how we carry out these complex projects in the future".

Competition law expert Guy Lougher of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that news of the review was one of two "particularly interesting" details outlined in the CMA's annual plan that reflect the CMA's response to recent criticisms contained in a National Audit Office report.

"First, the CMA acknowledges the need to enhance its competition enforcement work, in order to achieve a higher throughput of cases," Lougher said. "Secondly, the CMA has indicated that it will conduct a review of how it undertakes market investigation references, once its current investigations into the UK’s energy and private banking markets are both completed. There will be considerable third party interest, to see what happens next."

In its annual plan the CMA also revealed its intention to scrutinise the activities of price comparison websites in more detail.

"Consumers need to be able to access, assess and act on information for competition in markets to work well; online choice tools can play a central role in addressing competition concerns in UK markets," the CMA said. "In 2016/17 we plan to undertake analysis on price comparison websites, with the aim of understanding whether problems exist in the sector and if so what changes might be needed to make sure it operates competitively and in the best interests of consumers."

One of the "key commitments and initiatives" the CMA also set out was its plans to make use of "advisory and warning letters in the case of suspected breaches of competition law". It said this would have the purpose of "encouraging compliance without the need for a full formal investigation" and that the letters would be reinforced by it "publicising the broad facts where appropriate".

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