Boris Johnson warns firms against coronavirus profiteering

Boris Johnson warns firms guilty of coronavirus profiteering they will face ‘significant’ fines as the government urges shoppers to report any retailers trying to cash in on the crisis

  • Boris Johnson today urged traders not to engage in profiteering during crisis 
  • Downing Street said PM is ‘clear we don’t want to see profiteering of any kind’
  • Number 10 said ‘traders must stop any excessive price increases’ – or face fines
  • Coronavirus crisis has seen a number of products like toilet roll in high demand
  • Competition and Markets Authority monitoring firms to make sure they act fairly
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

Boris Johnson today warned shops they will face ‘significant’ fines if they unfairly hike prices on essential items during the coronavirus crisis. 

The Prime Minister said at his daily press conference that ‘I do not want to see people profiteering, people exploiting people’s need at a critical time’. 

He said the Competition and Markets Authority already had powers, including imposing financial penalties, to combat unfair price hikes but that the government is looking at whether it needs to go further.  

Downing Street is urging people who spot firms ‘exploiting consumers through harmful sales and pricing practices’ to report them to the CMA. 

The watchdog has set up a coronavirus task force and is monitoring businesses to make sure they behave reasonably. 

The CMA can impose fines or threaten court action against any firms found to be either fixing prices or unfairly putting up the cost of goods.  

It comes amid concern that some companies and shops have tried to cash in on the crisis by considerably raising prices as demand has surged for certain key items.   

Boris Johnson, pictured in Downing Street today, has warned traders they ‘must stop any excessive price increases’ during the coronavirus crisis or they will face fines from the Competition and Markets Authority

MPs demand clearer guidance on who should still be going to work

MPs are calling on the government to clarify advice to business about who should still be travelling to work during the coronavirus lockdown. 

Rachel Reeves, who chairs the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Select Committee, has written to Business Secretary Alok Sharma calling for clearer guidance to help address concerns some workers are being forced to go to work or that their employer is not offering enough support.

Hundreds of people have contacted the committee raising concern, working in a wide range of sectors including office-based staff, furniture manufacturers, travel agents, estate agents, law firms, and TV engineers.

The government has said people should only go to work if they absolutely cannot work from home. 

Mr Johnson was asked this afternoon what he thought of profiteering and he replied: ‘I dislike it very much and I do not want to see people profiteering, people exploiting people’s need at a critical time, a national emergency.

‘We are indeed looking very carefully at what is going on. 

‘The Competition and Markets Authority already has various powers that it may use and we are looking at the legislative framework to see what it may be necessary to do to prevent profiteering just as has happened in wartime many, many years ago.’

Downing Street had earlier signalled that it was willing to go further if the CMA’s existing powers prove not to be enough.

The Prime Minster’s Official Spokesman said: ‘The Prime Minister is clear that we don’t want to see profiteering of any kind. Traders must stop any excessive price increases.

‘The Competition and Markets Authority has created a specific Covid-19 task force to address and remedy concerns that some businesses are exploiting consumers through harmful sales and pricing practices.

‘We would urge anybody who has any concerns to report those to the CMA. 

‘The CMA can use a range of competition and consumer powers to tackle bad behaviour, including significant fines.

‘As the PM said today, we will also look at whether further action is necessary.’

The government has closed all non-essential shops during the coronavirus lockdown in the UK, including clothing and electronic stores. 

But shops selling essential items – mainly food – are allowed to remain open. 

The CMA said at the start of the month when the coronavirus crisis was first starting to hit the UK that it was working to ensure traders do not exploit the situation. 

The watchdog has said it will consider any evidence that companies may have broken competition or consumer protection law. 

That includes not only investigating excessive prices but also looking into any ‘misleading claims about the efficacy of protective equipment’ which may be for sale. 

Lord Tyrie, the chairman of the Competition and Markets Authority, said the watchdog will do ‘whatever we can to act against rip-offs’ during the crisis

The CMA has also not ruled out advising the government to take ‘direct action’ and to regulate prices if it is deemed to be necessary.

Lord Tyrie, the chairman of the CMA, said: ‘We will do whatever we can to act against rip-offs and misleading claims, using any or all of our tools; and where we can’t act, we’ll advise government on further steps they could take, if necessary.’

The watchdog’s chief executive Andrea Coscelli has urged all retailers to ‘behave responsibly’ and not ‘charge vastly inflated prices’. 

‘We also remind members of the public that these obligations may apply to them too if they resell goods, for example on online marketplaces,’ he said.   

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