New consumer watchdog will have 'real teeth' to tackle price-fixing
A NEW consumer watchdog with "real teeth" will have extra powers to tackle cartels and price-fixing that ultimately hits the pockets of consumers through higher prices.
The high-powered body will possess wider criminal investigative functions to tackle serious 'white-collar' crimes and practices impacting on the lucrative grocery sector.
Telephone and internet service providers now must keep data on calls and internet traffic for up to two years to ensure it is available for probes into serious competition offences.
Jobs Minister Richard Bruton signalled that he expected the newly published Competition and Consumer Protection Bill to be passed into law by the summer – clearing the way for the new watchdog equipped with the extra investigative powers.
"We will have a strong single agency with additional resources," he said of the upcoming merger of the existing National Consumer Agency and the Competition Authority. The move will deliver expected savings of €170,000 a year.
Both bodies – who will comprise the new Competition and Consumer Protection Commission – will be working to ensure open and competitive markets.
Isolde Goggin, the current Competition Authority chair, who will head the new watchdog of up to six members, warned that anti-competitive practices were damaging to both consumers and the economy.
It will also allow the minister to regulate certain practices in the grocery sector with the aim of ensuring fairness between players including suppliers, retailers and consumers.
Among the practices targeted are retailers altering contracts without consent, seeking "hello money" for space on shelves and suppliers being made to bear the cost of promotions by retailers.
Stiff criminal penalties will apply to breaches of regulations with the watchdog granted powers to issue compliance notices.
The wide-ranging Bill also relates to media mergers with a "public interest test" evaluation now being moved to fall under the remit of Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte.
The new watchdog will first decide if a merger should be permitted, and if it decides to let it go ahead then it will be passed on to the minister for the "public interest" test.