Consumer focus for University of East Anglia competition conference

A conference on anti-competitive business practices such as price-fixing and bid-rigging took place at the University of East Anglia in June 2012.

The Office of Fair Trading has uncovered high-profile cases including sales of replica football kits, airline price-fixing, and bid-rigging in the construction industry – resulting in multi-million pound fines for companies involved.

The two-day event focussed on how consumers, who pay over the odds as a result of such practices, can successfully claim compensation.

The conference was organised by the university's ESRC Centre for Competition Policy (CCP) and will see an international line up of economic, law, and political experts talking about their research and experience.

Speakers included John Holmes from Which? magazine and Iain Mansfield, assistant director of competition policy at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).

Dr Andreas Stephan, from the Centre for Competition Policy at UEA, said: "There are a number of obstacles for consumers claiming compensation. In particular, the financial loss is typically shared between a large number of consumers. But while individual losses might be small, the cumulative loss to the economy is potentially enormous.

"The problem in the UK is that we don't allow for collective legal actions on an ‘opt-out' basis.

"When the consumer group Which? attempted to sue for compensation over replica football kits it was unsuccessful because of the cost of identifying affected victims and getting them to sign up.

"In the US however, lawyers are able to sue on behalf of a group of consumers without each consumer needing to specifically ‘opt in' to the legal action.

"The UK government is currently consulting on such a system, which would make it much easier to sue companies for anti-competitive practices."

Iain Mansfield (BIS) led a panel discussion on the government's consultation at the event.

The conference, entitled ‘What Do Public and Private Sanctions in Competition Policy Actually Achieve?' took place on June 14-15 in the Thomas Paine Study Centre at UEA. 

Please see the links to the left for further information about this conference.