The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has published a high-level guide to help individuals and businesses understand their rights in the context of recent and upcoming changes in the law. The law changes aim to make it easier for victims of anti-competitive behaviour to seek redress (via compensation or another form of relief) and the guidance intends to help people understand how to do so.
The guidance contains a helpful summary of how competition law can be broken, what a claimant has to prove to get redress, ways to seek redress, time limits, types of redress and whether a claimant can recover costs.
Some interesting points to note about the recent law changes brought about by the Consumer Rights Act 2015 in this area are:
- The Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT) may now hear standalone competition claims where there is no existing infringement decision.
- The CAT has a new fast-track procedure to enable straightforward cases brought by individuals and small businesses to be resolved more quickly with limited risk as to costs.
- A representative person or body can bring collective actions before the CAT on behalf of a defined group of other individuals on either an 'opt-in' or 'opt out' basis:
- ‘Opt-in’ is where the claim is brought on behalf of each class member who notifies the representative that they wish to be included.
- ‘Opt-out’ is where the claim is brought on behalf of each class member, except any class member who opts out by notifying the representative and any class member who is not domiciled in the UK and who does not opt in to the claim.
- The CMA and sectoral regulators have the power to approve voluntary redress schemes set up by businesses to provide compensation for competition law breaches without going to court.
The guide also takes account of the European Damages Directive, which is due to enter into force in the UK later this year and is intended to improve access to redress for breaches of European competition law.
Since the introduction of the Consumer Rights Act we have not seen a rush to take advantage of the new rules. This is not really surprising given the legal and procedural complexity of competition actions. And although this guidance is targeted at individuals and smaller businesses it is not really accessible to the general public. In fact, it advises readers to take legal advice before bringing proceedings.
But the reforms are real, and smaller businesses that are daunted by the prospect of taking action for wrongful behaviour by a competitor or supplier, for example, may well find that it is easier and less expensive than they had feared.