The Competition Markets Authority (CMA) has launched a taskforce to tackle businesses exploiting the coronavirus situation by charging excessive prices or making misleading claims about their products.
The CMA said the move has been prompted by “many concerns” that companies could take advantage of the outbreak.
It urged firms to behave responsibly and said it would consider any evidence that companies may have broken competition or consumer protection law.
The taskforce will scrutinise market developments to identify harmful sales and pricing practices as they emerge.
It will warn firms suspected of exploiting these exceptional circumstances – and people’s vulnerability – through unjustifiable prices or misleading claims.
The CMA has already contacted traders and platforms regarding excessive pricing of hand sanitiser.
And it has promised to take enforcement action if there is evidence that firms may have breached competition or consumer protection law and they fail to respond to warnings.
Additionally, the taskforce will equip the CMA to advise the government on emergency legislation if there are negative impacts for people which cannot be addressed through existing powers.
It will also advise on further policy and legislative measures to ensure markets function as well as possible in the coming months.
Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA, said the taskforce would be monitoring market developments to enable it to intervene as quickly as possible.
“We have a range of options at our disposal, from warnings to enforcement action to seeking emergency powers. We hope that such action will not be necessary, but we will do whatever is required to stop a small minority of businesses that may seek to exploit the present situation.”