The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (“CCPC”) has a broad statutory remit to encourage competition and to promote and protect the interests and welfare of consumers. We examine the CCPC’s dual mandate and its recent focus on tackling consumer harms.
Since its inception, the CCPC’s mandate has revolved around two core goals: to make markets work better for both consumers and businesses. However, of late, there has been a noticeable focus on the consumer protection element of this mandate, including in competition cases.
The CCPC’s competition law agenda in 2016 was concentrated on cartel detection and investigations into information sharing and anti-competitive agreements. It is clear that the detection and investigation of cartels and anti-competitive agreements will remain a top priority for the CCPC in 2017. For instance, the CCPC recently launched an investigation into alleged bid-rigging in school transport contracts. The CCPC’s focus is on cases which have a real impact on consumers.
In 2016, an investigation was concluded into the publication of recommended minimum rates by the Approved Tour Guides of Ireland (ATGI). Similarly, an ongoing investigation is being conducted concerning information sharing by private motor insurers via a third party software product. The CCPC secured commitments in the ATGI case. These ensured tour guides set their prices individually so that consumers can shop around for the best prices. In the motor insurers case, the CCPC secured undertakings from the relevant insurance providers to address its concerns about consumer harm from reduced price competition, particularly where insurers were exchanging commercially sensitive information. The CCPC’s investigation into price signalling in the motor insurance market remains on-going.
In 2015, the CCPC’s consumer protection focus in competition cases was already being exhibited in commitments secured by the CCPC from Booking.com. This was on foot of a competition investigation into certain business practices of Booking.com. Among other things, the commitments required Booking.com to ensure that its customer contracts comply with applicable privacy and data protection laws. The intersection between privacy / data protection laws and competition law is a topic of much debate presently. Many commentators take the view that privacy and data protection concerns, which focus on consumer protection, are outside the ambit of competition law, which focuses on economic effects.
Continuing the theme of consumer protection in 2016, the CCPC carried out 150 unannounced inspections of trader premises in Ireland to assess their compliance with pricing legislation. The CCPC took 40 consumer protection enforcement actions against 33 traders in Ireland. These resulted in 11 compliance notices, 28 fixed payment notices, and one undertaking.
The CCPC is also using its consumer protection powers to investigate, and in some instances take criminal enforcement action against, perpetrators of vehicle crime. These offences typically involve providing false information on a car’s history. Investigations by the CCPC in 2016 into the provision of false and misleading information to consumers in relation to motor vehicles resulted in one undertaking by a car trader. The trader involved wished to avoid criminal enforcement action. In a separate action, a compensation order was handed down by the court of €5,000 against another car trader. Earlier in 2017, the CCPC took a criminal enforcement action against a Dublin car trader for misleading consumers about a vehicle’s mileage. This resulted in a three-month prison sentence being imposed on the accused.
We expect that the CCPC will continue to invoke its broad statutory powers in accordance with its dual mandate, with an emphasis on tackling consumer harms. It is likely to maintain its focus on consumer rights issues, anti-competitive behaviour and, potentially, merger control. In particular, parties now need to be prepared to give commitments that extend beyond the realm of pure competition law as a condition to merger clearance.