The CMA’s current focus: a closer look at the investigations and market studies opened in 2024

23 May 2024

Recent months have seen a noticeable uptick in the number of CMA investigations and market studies being opened, both in relation to competition and consumer enforcement matters. We set out below a short summary of each of the CMA reviews and investigations announced since the start of 2024.

  • Following an initial review of the veterinary services market, and a public consultation which ran from 12 March to 11 April 2024, on 23 May the CMA confirmed its decision to launch a formal Market Investigation into the sector. The CMA received an “unprecedented” number of responses to the initial review from both consumers and veterinary professionals, covering a wide range of potential concerns including (i) insufficient information being provided to consumers about the best veterinary practices or treatments for their needs; (ii) overpriced medicines; and (iii) concentrated local markets resulting in less consumer choice.
  • Following the conclusion of its housebuilding market study, which found “fundamental concerns” relating to the planning system, speculative private development and estate management charges, the CMA opened an investigation on 26 February 2024 into suspected exchanges of competitively sensitive information between certain housebuilders. This investigation is currently in the information gathering stage. 
  • On 20 February 2024, the CMA launched a market study into baby formula. This followed a CMA report published in November 2023 which considered competition in food and other groceries, in the context of high inflation. The CMA has until 19 August 2024 to announce whether it proposes to make a market investigation reference as a result of this market study. 
  • The CMA is also concerned about a possible abuse of a dominant position by Vifor Pharma in relation to the supply of an intravenous iron deficiency treatment, and, in particular, whether Vifor had been making misleading claims to healthcare professionals about the safety and effectiveness of a competitor’s product. It therefore opened an investigation into Vifor on 31 January 2024 and began its information gathering stage. It expects this stage to continue until November 2024. 
  • With a similar cost of living focus to the baby formula investigation referred to above, the CMA also commenced a review on 30 January 2024 into loyalty pricing by supermarkets which makes cheaper prices only available to loyalty card members. The CMA is considering whether loyalty pricing may be misleading for shoppers, whether groups of shoppers might be disadvantaged by such pricing, and whether this type of pricing impacts consumer behaviour and the way that supermarkets compete with each other. 

This surge in activity underscores the CMA’s commitment to ensuring effective competition and safeguarding consumer interests across a diverse array of sectors (although industries such as pharmaceuticals and construction, which have been investigated by the CMA a number of times previously, are clearly still of interest). It also reflects the priorities in the CMA’s Annual Plan for 2024/2025, which notes a focus on the cost of living crisis and on the “areas that matter to people most” including housing, food, healthcare and the online world. 

It is noteworthy that these reviews and investigations have largely been independently initiated by the CMA, without collaboration with global competition authorities. They predominantly stem from the CMA's own initial questioning of the effectiveness of competition in the relevant markets, rather than from instances of whistleblowing. This demonstrates the CMA’s autonomous and proactive approach to competition and consumer enforcement.

One might be tempted to conclude that the CMA has recently been preoccupied with the tech sector.  It is certainly true that tech is a key area of focus in the CMA’s most recent Annual Plan – not least due to the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers (DMCC) Bill, which has now finished working its way through Parliament.  However, the activity outlined above serves as a reminder that the CMA remains tuned in to a wide variety of other markets that tangibly impact consumers' day-to-day lives. Consumers (and consumer champions) will likely be keeping an eye on the findings of these reviews and investigations, in the hope that the CMA delivers on its mandate to make markets work well in the interests of consumers, businesses and the overall economy.