Pride Mobility Products, a manufacturer of mobility scooters, and eight online retailers of their products have been accused by the UK’s competition watchdog of unfair pricing arrangements that may have led to customers not getting value for money.
The Office of Fair Trading said on Tuesday that it had issued a statement of objections – provisional findings after an investigation – to Pride Mobility and the retailers over “concerted practices” between 2010 and 2012 that covered seven scooter models made by the Bicester-based company.
The OFT alleges that these arrangements meant that the online retailers did not advertise prices for the models below Pride Mobility’s recommended retail price.
“The internet is a vital tool for shopping around,” said Louis Christofides, an OFT director. “This is particularly important in the mobility scooters sector, where many customers may have difficulty getting out to the shops.”
The eight online retailers, some of which also operated physical shops, were named as: Careco, Discount Mobility Plus/Rutland Mobility, Mobility 4U, MT Mobility/Hooplah, Robert Gregg, Hartmond, Milton Keynes Mobility, and Better Mobility.
The parties must respond to the OFT’s statement before the regulator publishes its final enforcement decision.
Calls to Pride Mobility seeking comment were not immediately answered.
The OFT examined how well the UK’s £500m market for mobility aids was working in 2011 and concluded that some businesses were not publishing ranges of prices for products, which was impinging on customers’ ability to get the best possible deal.
The watchdog can now fine a company up to 30 per cent of its turnover in a particular market if it finds that it fixed prices – triple the previous amount.
The OFT is due to officially merge with the Competition Commission next month to form the Competition and Markets Authority.
A flurry of activity by the OFT has preceded the merger, with Tuesday’s statement of objections following findings published on Friday that provisionally concluded that John Lewis, Debenhams and House of Fraser had fixed the price of sports bras.
The OFT separately announced on Tuesday that it was referring to the Competition Commission a completed acquisition of Aggregate Industries’ assets by Breedon Aggregates because there was a risk of a “substantial lessening of competition in the supply of primary aggregates, asphalt and ready-mix concrete in a number of local areas in the North of Scotland”.
The Competition Commission has the power to force companies to unwind mergers if it finds them to be monopolistic.