OFT poised to fine UK firms ignorant of EU competition rules

British business has little or no understanding of the radical changes that will affect it if the UK adopts EU-inspired competition laws, says a Cameron McKenna survey of top companies.

The survey of 100 leading companies found 57 per cent had taken no action to prepare for impending changes to the competition regime. The legislation will come before the House of Lords for final consideration this Tuesday and if enacted will bring UK competition law in line with EC law.

It gives the Director General of Fair Trading increased powers to fine companies that fail to comply with the new rules banning abuse of market position and restrictive practices. The European Commission has already meted out fines in excess of #50m.

Vicky Sandy, a senior assistant at Cameron McKenna who has just returned from a secondment to the Office of Fair Trading, said companies face fines of up to 10 per cent of UK group turnover if the OFT proves infringement is intentional or negligent.

She said companies could avoid that prospect if they instituted competition compliance programmes, examined existing agreements and looked at marketing exercises to see whether they could be stepping over the line.

“It will be somewhat late in the day to reach for the law books if your company suffers a dawn raid by the OFT using its new powers,” said Richard Taylor, head of competition and EC at Cameron McKenna.

The survey found that only 46 per cent of respondents claimed to have “some knowledge” and 24 per cent have “little knowledge” of the main provisions of the Bill.

“We find it surprising that so many leading businesses are so unprepared for the Competition Bill,” said Taylor.