Making markets work well with customers
An Office of Fair Trading case study

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Page 3: Key areas of OFT activity

The OFT has different divisions: Competition Enforcement (CE); Consumer Regulation Enforcement (CRE); Markets and Policy Initiatives (MPI); Legal; Communications; Resources and Services. The CE and CRE divisions conduct the enforcement programme and also intervene in markets.

Competition enforcement (CE)

This division ensures that competition laws are enforced by identifying and opposing various forms of anti-competitive behaviour. The work of its seven branches is sub-divided as follows:

  • Policy co-ordination - preparing OFT guidelines, liaising with the European Commission and providing policy advice and assistance on cases.
  • Cartels - working across all market sectors, liaising with international bodies and conducting on-site investigations.
  • Mergers - monitoring and testing proposed and recently completed mergers, to see if they may be anti-competitive. If so, they may be referred to the Competition Commission.
  • Handling complaints and other investigatory work to check that all businesses are complying with the relevant legislation.

Consumer regulation enforcement (CRE)

This division enforces a range of consumer protection laws and encourages businesses to adopt good business practice. It works closely with local trading standards departments and co-ordinates enforcement action.

Key operational areas include:

  • Tackling scams and trading malpractice - it has the power to seek court orders against businesses which damage consumers by breaching consumer protection law.
  • Unfair terms in consumer contracts - OFT negotiates with businesses to remove such terms. Guidance and information is issued and the OFT can seek court orders, where necessary, against offending businesses.
  • Consumer Credit - OFT regulates the consumer credit market by ensuring fair dealing by businesses involved in lending money to consumers, and operates the licensing scheme.
  • Misleading advertising - OFT works closely with the Advertising Standards Authority.
  • Shopping from home - OFT works to ensure that businesses which sell directly to customers, including over the Internet, provide shoppers with clear law-abiding information - for example cancellation rights.
  • International consumer protection - where EU consumer law has been breached, harming the collective interests of consumers, OFT can bring actions against businesses in other European states.
  • Codes of practice - the OFT can approve business codes of practice which meet certain essential conditions. Approved codes will be permitted to carry an OFT endorsed logo signifying OFT's approval.

The OFT has powers to prevent unfit persons from being estate agents and keeps a public register of banning and warning orders made. It can also pursue court orders against traders who contravene legislation.

Office of Fair Trading | Making markets work well with customers