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Watchdog calls for emergency laws to crackdown on coronavirus profiteering

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The UK’s competition watchdog has advised the government to introduce emergency laws to stop sellers profiteering during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said legislation is needed to crackdown on businesses charging inflated prices for essential products such as hand sanitiser.

It said it has written to “hundreds of businesses” asking them to explain their prices and will use “our existing powers to the maximum extent” where there’s evidence laws have been broken.

The CMA said it received almost 21,000 complaints about coronavirus-related issues between 10 March and 19 April.

It said it has written to 87 traders that have collectively been the subject of over 2,500 complaints regarding unjustifiable price rises.

An investigation by consumer group Which? found in-demand items were being sold for at least double the typical supermarket price on some online marketplaces.

For example, Carex hand wash and sanitiser were being sold on Amazon for five times the typical supermarket price and 9% were on sale for ten times the price.

A CMA spokesperson said: “Our Covid-19 taskforce continues to scrutinise reports of potentially harmful sales practices, including inflated price rises. The vast majority of businesses are doing the right thing, but where there is evidence that firms may have broken the law, we’ll be using our existing powers to the maximum possible extent.

“We’ve already written to hundreds of businesses asking them to explain their inflated prices, and what we find out will help us decide whether and where we can take further action.

“Along with our existing powers, we have also advised the government on options for emergency time-limited legislation that could give a better chance of dealing with this type of problem.”

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