The OFT announced on 26 March 2013 that the UK Asbestos Training Association (UKATA) had, following discussions with the OFT, ended an arrangement that appeared to recommend the prices at which its members provide training services.
As a general rule, pricing recommendations made by trade associations to their members may raise serious competition concerns where they result in those members not competing with each other on the merits. This is a type of price fixing and therefore trade associations (and their members) need to be very careful when discussions or activities stray into this area. Emphasising this, the OFT commented: “[This] announcement sends out a wider message to trade associations that they should not undertake initiatives that could result in reduced price competition between their members. The OFT will continue to prioritise investigating such suspected arrangements in the future.”
As part of the agreement between UKATA and the OFT, UKATA also confirmed that it will ensure that its members compete on the price of asbestos awareness training services, that it will not enter into any similar arrangements and that it will provide further guidance to its members on the importance of complying with competition law.
Although it might have been able to do so, the OFT did not impose a fine but instead closed its file on the basis of the agreement reached with UKATA. This was because the arrangement was of short duration, it had not yet had a significant impact on purchasers of the training services and UKATA had taken comprehensive and swift action to ensure compliance with competition law.
This is not a new concern of the OFT; a recent case in which the OFT scrutinised a price recommendation by a trade association resulted in the publication by the OFT of an unusual opinion on how various interested parties can collaborate together to speed up rural broadband roll-out in the UK.