On 10 September 2012, the UK Office of Fair Trading (OFT) published new guidance on how it will set fines for breaches of competition law. The new guidance sets the starting point for a fine at a figure which can be up to 30 per cent of the company’s relevant annual turnover. This increase to the starting point brings the OFT into line with the approach of the European Commission (EC) and many other European national competition authorities. The more serious and widespread the infringement, the higher the starting point is likely to be. Price-fixing or market-sharing agreements and other cartel activities are among the most serious infringements. Where abuse of dominance is investigated, conduct which by virtue of the company's market position and the nature of the conduct has, or is likely to have, a particularly serious effect on competition, such as predatory pricing, will be considered one of the most serious infringements.
Unlike the EC, the OFT’s guidance provides active support to compliance programmes. The OFT may award a discount to a company which takes appropriate steps to comply with competition law. For example, the guidance now notes that evidence of appropriate compliance activities both before and after an infringement could in principle warrant a modest reduction in penalty, depending on the facts of the case. Every company active in the UK should have a suitable competition compliance programme in place.