Coronavirus: Regulator launches Covid-19 taskforce to stop businesses exploiting customers

Lianna Brinded
Head of Yahoo Finance UK
Most supermarkets have sold out toilet rolls. (Getty)

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) announced that it is launching a Covid-19 taskforce to monitor and help mitigate businesses taking advantage of customers during the coronavirus pandemic.

The regulator said in a statement on Friday 20 March that “the outbreak of Covid-19 is an unprecedented and rapidly evolving challenge that has prompted many concerns that businesses might exploit the situation to take advantage of people, for example by charging excessive prices or making misleading claims about their products.”

It said that the taskforce will scrutinise the market and help identify what it sees as harmful sales and pricing practices as they emerge. This could be anything from a shop bumping up prices of toilet paper, soap, and hand sanitiser.

The group will also issue warnings to firms if it sees “unjustifiable prices” or misleading claims. It confirmed it has already been doing this and has contacted a number of traders and platforms regarding excessive pricing of hand sanitiser.

Read more: UK watchdog clamps down on coronavirus 'rip-offs' and misleading products

The taskforce will also be able to take enforcement action against firms as well as equip the CMA to advise the UK government on any needed emergency legislation if developments cannot be addressed through existing powers.

“This is obviously a time when we all have to behave responsibly to protect our fellow citizens, and particularly those who are most vulnerable,” said Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA.

“We urge retailers to behave responsibly in the exceptional circumstances of the Covid-19 outbreak.

“But if they do not, our taskforce is monitoring market developments to enable us to intervene as quickly as possible. We have a range of options at our disposal, from warnings to enforcement action to seeking emergency powers. We hope that such action will not be necessary, but we will do whatever is required to stop a small minority of businesses that may seek to exploit the present situation.”

Earlier this month, the CMA launched an investigation into “rip-offs and misleading claims” over products linked to protection from the coronavirus, warning retailers not to charge inflated prices.

Watch the latest videos from Yahoo UK