The Office of Fair Trading (The OFT)

What is the Office of Fair Trading?

The Fair Trading Act of 1973 paved the way for the establishment of the Office of Fair Trading. The Office of Fair Trading is a non-ministerial department of the United Kingdom government. The office acts as the economic regulator of the country and is responsible for enforcing consumer competition and protection. The Office of Fair Trading is the main institution for ensuring fair deals in business and trading. With its rules and guidance, this government department ensures that unfair business practices are avoided and diminished. As such, the Office of Fair Trading is also concerned in the prevention of scams, cartels and rogue trading.

How does the Office of Fair Trading perform its job?

Technically, the Office of Fair Trading has three major roles:

Competition Enforcement

The Office of Fair Trading is responsible for enforcing competition laws provided by the country and the European Community. Such laws are detailed in The EC Treaty and the 1998 Competition Act. With these laws at hand, the Office of Fair Trading has enough powers to stop competition damaging businesses such as cartels. It also has the power to break up anti-competitive agreements from different businesses. As part of the European Commission, the Office of Fair Trading also works alongside national authorities to regulate competition. The Office of Fair Trading also prevents abuse of competition between businesses in order to protect the consumers. The office is also tasked to ensure that businesses are provided with strong competitive arenas. It also tries to ensure that businesses are up to date with legislation by conducting a widespread informational program. As provided by the Enterprise Act of 2002, the Office of Fair Trading can also take part in the investigation of business mergers.

Consumer Regulation Enforcement

To enable it to protect consumers, the OFT has received legal powers. As such, the Office of Fair Trading can take necessary actions to combat unfair traders. Consumer and consumer groups who have requested  or recommended the investigation of particular business or business practices are entertained and given direction to the proper procedure of filing complaints. The Office of Fair Trading also acts as a kind of fair-trading police, thus ensuring that all laws about consumer protection and regulation are observed and practice by businesses.  The department conducts campaigns to encourage good moral business standards and codes of practice. The office also coordinates with other regulatory institutions tasked by the government in the process of regulation. It also provides consumers with the opportunity to be informed of their consumer rights.

Market and Policies Initiatives

The task of regulating and ensuring fair trading is undoubtedly a difficult one. The Office takes the time to dissect, analyze and study market sectors, business operations and trading trends to come up with regulations and policies that would work well in the best interests of the businesses and of course, the consumers. In the case of investigations or complaints, the Office of Fair Trading may enforce stricter rules and regulations for that the particular business involved should follow, but seldom does the Office of Fair Trading go with intervention. If the situation calls for government intervention, the Office of fair Trading ensures that such acts are always open to public scrutiny to avoid any conflicts of interest.

What are the limitations of the Office of Fair Trading?

The offices work is limited in that it is not permitted to act on behalf of individuals. Complainants are given information on how the company or individual could pursue filing of complaints. The office also cannot say outright that a particular business is good or bad, trustworthy or untrustworthy. What it can do is provide consumers an effective guide in choosing the right business for them. The office is also not allowed to apply enforcement measures on businesses that have not breach particular regulation laws promulgated by it.

Where can people go if they have problems against a business?

Consumers can get advice from the Consumer Direct. Consumer Direct is tasked by the Office of Fair Trading to provide consumers advices on consumer concerns and information on regulators, regulations and policies

Article written by...
Lucy Trevelyan LLB
Lucy Trevelyan LLB

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Lucy graduated in law from the University of Greenwich, and is also an NCTJ trained journalist. A legal writer and editor with over 20 years' experience writing about the law.