U.K. to Ease Way for Consumers to Sue Over Price-Fixing

The U.K. government, seeking further ways to stimulate economic growth, will make it easier for groups of consumers and small companies to take legal action against firms that act in an anti-competitive way.

Business Minister Jo Swinson said today that instances of price-fixing or imposing unfair trading terms are damaging business and announced a fast-track system in the courts for claimants. Businesses that want to offer compensation voluntarily will be able to do so through collective settlement and will be protected from expensive and lengthy legal action, she said.

“Competition is one of the great drivers of growth; it keeps our prices low and our businesses innovating,” Swinson, a Liberal Democrat, said in an e-mailed statement. “This is why it’s important that where there are businesses who abuse their position in the market, those who have been affected can take appropriate action.”

The business department cited hypothetical examples of price-fixing the move is meant to tackle. Under one scenario, if a number of airlines began to fix prices of fuel surcharges and all consumers affected paid 50 pounds ($80) more for a ticket than they should have, they could be included in a collective action to recoup the money for each individual, it said.

The changes were announced in the government’s response to a consultation paper that sought to improve the way the U.K. helps individuals or businesses challenge anti-competitive practices in court. Appropriate representative bodies will be able to take collective action in court, and groups of consumers or businesses will automatically be included.

If people don’t want to be part of the claim they will have to opt out. “Frivolous” claims will not be allowed, the business department said, adding that no-win, no-fee legal actions also won’t be permitted.

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