Watchdog probing alleged price-fixing of fuel after 200 complaints from the public

Watchdog probing alleged price-fixing of fuel after 200 complaints from the public
Claims that filling stations hiked fuel prices to boost profits and turned off roadside pricing displays are among 200 complaints made to a consumer protection watchdog in the last fortnight.

Jeremy Godfrey, chair of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, will today reveal that investigations are under way to assess evidence that might indicate collusive practices.

The commission is a statutory agency responsible for enforcing competition and consumer protection law. Its investigations can lead to criminal prosecution.

Mr Godfrey will tell an Oireachtas Committee that over the past two weeks it got almost 200 complaints from the general public and public representatives about fuel pricing.

He will also say it has written to a trade association and two fuel companies about competition law risks in making public statements about future price increases.

Mr Godfrey will say in general the complaints allege that filling stations failed to pass on an excise duty reduction “in a timely manner”.

They also allege they exploited the current economic situation to raise fuel prices and increase profits.

“Some complaints include allegations of collusion and a few contain information about price movements at particular filling stations,” he will say.

His opening statement to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment says the commission also received complaints relating to allegations that roadside pricing displays were turned off at filling stations.

Mr Godfrey will say the war in Ukraine has exacerbated pressures on the cost of living, leading to upward pressure on petrol and diesel prices.

“This affects all consumers and has a particular effect on vulnerable members of society,” he will say. “We fully appreciate the anxiety and concern that they feel.

“We are also conscious that the recent concern about fuel pricing may be replicated in relation to prices of other products that are affected by the war and by the economic sanctions that have followed.”

His statement comes as committee chair Maurice Quinlivan said many filling stations were now charging more than €2 per litre.

Mr Quinlivan said there had been calls for the commission to investigate alleged price-gouging.

The commission investigates suspected breaches of competition or consumer protection law and can take enforcement action.

This can range from referring a file to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) for a criminal prosecution in the case of the most serious cartel behaviour, to fixed penalty notices or compliance notices for breaches of consumer protection law.