Today, we’ve published our analysis of 1,500+ submissions to our price gouging reporting tool, and the results are concerning. Are you still spotting price gouging?
We launched our campaign against price gouging after finding hundreds of listings for products such as hand sanitiser and cleaning products at vastly inflated prices – sometimes ten or more times their RRP – on online marketplaces.
After hearing from hundreds of you on social media and Which? Conversation about your experiences, it was clear that unscrupulous sellers both online and in bricks-and-mortar stores were taking advantage of the crisis to make a quick profit – and that they continue to do so.
We decided to launch a tool to make it easy for people to report examples directly to us, which we would share with the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).
Struggling to get essentials
Today we have published our analysis of the 1,500+ submissions we have received so far. The figures paint a worrying picture about how people across the UK have struggled to get the essential items they needed during the coronavirus crisis.
More than a third (36%) of people said that they have been forced to pay sky-high prices to get hold of essential hygiene and medical items – products which made up almost half (46%) of all submissions.
The average price difference for hygiene items was a staggering 414%.
We’ve been calling on the government to introduce emergency legislation to tackle price gouging during this pandemic and in future crises.
Our recommendations would give the CMA the power to clamp down on proven instances of price gouging of essential items necessary in a crisis, and also provide clear information to businesses about what price increases would be considered justifiable.
We believe that if such action had been taken earlier then thousands of people who are vulnerable, self-isolating, or essential frontline workers could have been saved from paying extortionate prices for products such as hand sanitizer, paracetamol and face masks.
Instead, the CMA has only been able to begin to take action against just four pharmacies at the end of June, rather than tackle the problem at the beginning of the crisis when our research showed price gouging was widespread.
Lagging behind other countries
Similar powers already existed, or were introduced in response to coronavirus, in countries around the world – including Canada, Japan, and the USA.
These countries have seen similar incidents of price gouging on certain items, but have been able to take action much more quickly than the UK. For example:
🇨🇦 In Canada, an individual may face a fine of up to CAD 100,000 and up to a year imprisonment, while corporations may be fined up to CAD 10 million.
🇬🇷 In Greece, the Development Ministry issued fines totalling €113,500 between 24 and 26 March for profiteering.
🇺🇸 In the USA, an executive order was passed at federal level on 23 March to invoke the Defence Production Act. This was in addition to existing laws in numerous States which outlawed price gouging during an emergency.
Action to prevent rip-offs
We’re concerned that price gouging is still continuing, and that a possible second spike in infections could leave people trying to stay safe being ripped off yet again.
It’s vital that the government takes action now and works to protect people during this and future emergencies, and does not allow any sellers from continuing to profiteer from a crisis.
Thank you so much to those of you who have shared your experiences and examples with us so far.
If you’ve spotted continued examples of price gouging, please do carry on reporting them via our tool.