CMA launches taskforce to tackle COVID-19 profiteering

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Jhoots Pharmacy has been lambasted on social media for allegedly charging three times more than the normal price for a bottle of Calpol after Cllr Majid Mahmood of Bromford and Hodge Hill ward in Birmingham posted on Twitter this photo from a local branch of the chain.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has launched a taskforce to tackle unscrupulous business practices during the COVID-19 crisis.

The competition watchdog has earlier this month asked retailers to not exploit the current situation to take advantage of people, warning against practices like charging excessive prices or making misleading claims about their products.

The CMA said it has already contacted traders and platforms regarding excessive pricing of hand sanitiser.

“The intervention in the economy necessitated by public health policy may have a substantial impact on competition, with the risk of an increase in consumer detriment. That’s why this taskforce is needed,” said Andrew Tyrie, the CMA chairman.

The taskforce will identify harmful sales and pricing practices as they emerge and warn firms suspected of exploiting these exceptional circumstances through unjustifiable prices or misleading claims.

It will also take enforcement action if there is evidence that firms may have breached competition or consumer protection law and fail to respond to warnings.

“We have a range of options at our disposal, from warnings to enforcement action to seeking emergency powers. We hope that such action will not be necessary, but we will do whatever is required to stop a small minority of businesses that may seek to exploit the present situation,” said Andrea Coscelli, the CMA chief executive.