Competition watchdog drops final investigation into hand sanitiser prices

The competition watchdog has dropped its final investigation into whether retailers overcharged desperate customers for hand sanitiser as Covid-19 started to spread in the UK.

After warning retailers of serious consequences if they jacked up prices earlier in the year, the watchdog said it was not worth its time to continue a months-long probe into a company which might have over-priced hand sanitiser.

It was the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) last remaining investigation into unfair prices of hand sanitiser, after it closed three others in July.

It said that the final probe had found that an unnamed company is not currently charging unfair prices.

“Further investigation to reach a definitive view on whether the retailer’s prices have infringed competition law would deliver limited, if any, consumer benefits,” the CMA said.

It added: “The decision to close the case does not amount to a definitive statement or finding as to whether the party to the investigation has infringed competition law, nor should any inference be made to that effect.”

In March, the CMA warned traders that it would clamp down hard on anyone who was trying to inflate prices and threatened fines under competition laws.

At the time, the CMA said it “will consider any evidence that companies may have broken competition or consumer protection law, for example by charging excessive prices or making misleading claims about the efficacy of protective equipment”.

During the lockdown months, reports emerged that some online retailers were selling hand sanitiser with 5,000% mark-ups.

One sanitiser that sold for 49p at Lidl was fetching £24.99 on eBay, according to research from Liberty Marketing.

Outrageous examples prompted the CMA to establish a “task force” to look into the issues.