New UK Competition watchdog beefs up Scottish office and highlights concerns over fuel-poverty and market-rigging

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The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) starts work today as the UK’s primary competition and consumer agency, with a vital role to play in helping stimulate economic growth and innovation and ensuring consumers get a good deal.

Bringing together the Competition Commission (CC) with the competition and certain consumer functions of the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), the CMA has a range of new responsibilities and powers to ensure it meets its mission of making markets work well for consumers, businesses and the economy.

These include tighter timetables for investigations, a stronger role in ensuring competition in regulated sectors like financial services and energy, and a reformed legal framework for prosecuting individuals involved in criminal cartel activity.

In its first Annual Plan, the CMA sets out its priorities and work programme. These focus on merger control, market studies and investigations, and enforcement of competition and consumer law. The CMA has already taken on a challenging programme of markets work in key strategic areas such as banking, energy, payday lending and higher education.

It will now take on from the OFT and CC more than a dozen live competition enforcement and consumer cases, over 30 merger cases and three on-going Phase 2 market investigations.

The CMA will place the interests of consumers at its heart and help ensure the newly redrawn consumer protection landscape works effectively in their interests. The CMA will work closely with its consumer protection partners, such as local authority Trading Standards Services and the Citizens Advice Services, together with the sector regulators.

Over-indebtedness has been a prominent feature in several markets recently scrutinised by the OFT or CC, and is also affecting the consumption of basic utilities such as energy, with a significant proportion of households suffering fuel poverty.

Furthermore, as a body for the whole of the UK, the CMA is establishing a new presence in Wales and Northern Ireland, and building on the OFT’s existing office in Scotland.

This will help it remain closely connected to stakeholders in the devolved nations, and to pay full attention to differences in market conditions across the UK.

Meanwhile, Energy Action Scotland – the national charity which campaigns to eradicate fuel-poverty – has welcomed the recommendation by OFGEM that the new UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) investigates the UK energy market.

Norman Kerr, Director, Energy Action Scotland, said: “If the review leads to lower bills and this can be sustained over time, then that will be to the benefit of consumers.

“Any move to make the energy market more transparent can only serve to increase customer confidence and that is certainly a step in the right direction.”

Energy Action Scotland estimates that there are currently around 900,000 households in fuel poverty in Scotland, ie about 40%. Fuel-poverty is defined as the need to spend more than 10% of household income on fuel bills.

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