- Competition issues
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The Competition Act 1998 came into force in March 2000. It outlaws any agreements, business practices or conduct which has, or could have, a damaging effect on competition in the United Kingdom. This includes abuse by a company which uses its dominant position in a way that damages competition. Where conduct has an effect on trade between member states we will apply Articles 101 and 102 of the European Treaty.
We have extensive powers to investigate companies believed to be involved in anti-competitive activities.
The Act is also enforced by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT). In relation to the railway industry, we hold concurrent powers and will lead in the investigation of rail related matters. The exception is with criminal cartels which are investigated by the OFT and the Serious Fraud Office.
Prohibitions under the Competition Act 1998
The Act prohibits:
- agreements between undertakings (companies) or decisions of associations of undertakings (e.g. trade associations), and concerted practices which have, as their object or effect, the prevention, restriction or distortion of competition within the United Kingdom (or any part of it) and which may affect trade in the United Kingdom. This is known as the Chapter I Prohibition; and
- conduct by one or more company amounting to the abuse of a dominant position in a market which may affect trade within the United Kingdom. This is known as the Chapter II Prohibition.
Some examples that may indicate anti-competitive behaviour include:
- a major supplier has suddenly decided, for no apparent reason, to discontinue supplying you with a product.
- quotes from various suppliers are surprisingly and unusually similar.
- major supplier will only sell you a product if you buy an unconnected product.
- on entering a market, you find that a major competitor has responded by dropping his prices to extremely low levels, which you suspect would not cover its costs.
The fact that a company is engaged in any of the behaviour shown in the examples above does not mean that it has necessarily broken the law. This will depend on the circumstances of the case.
Under the Competition Act 1998, the Chapter I prohibition is breached only where the agreement or arrangement in question has an appreciable effect on competition. A Chapter II prohibition is breached only where the undertaking engaged in the conduct in question is in a dominant position and has abused that position. In some cases the behaviour in question may be a perfectly legitimate response to rigorous competition in the market.
In circumstances where the conduct of a business might cause serious and irreparable harm to a market, we can provide interim relief whilst an investigation occurs.
If you have a question related to competition, please contact us. If you want to make a complaint under the Competition Act, please see our complaints section.
We have published guidance on the application of the Competition Act to services relating to railways. The Office of Fair Trading has also published guidance on competition law.
Complaints not being made under competition law should be directed to the train operating company (TOC) in the first instance and then, if dissatisfied with the TOC's response, to Passenger Focus, or London TravelWatch, as appropriate.
In response to a number of complaints that we have received about rail fares and train station car parks charges, we have published a plain English guide which provides information on how these prices are regulated and explains our approach to considering such complaints under competition law. The plain English guide is accompanied by a more detailed paper on the consideration of excessive pricing complaints and franchised passenger services, along with a set of quick reference questions and answers.
You do not have to be directly involved in an activity to make a complaint, nor do you have to be a business.
You may get in touch with us if you suspect that any company supplying goods or services relating to railways is involved in activities prohibited by the competition law.
This section provides links to our completed competition case work. Whenever we make a public decision or statement on a case it will be referenced here.
Last updated: 13 January 2011