CMA publishes its Annual Plan for 2024-2025

On 14 March 2024, after a period of consultation, the UK Competition and Markets Authority (“CMA”), published its strategic plan for 2024-2025.

The CMA retains core elements of its medium to long term priorities and sets out its key areas of focus for the next 12 months, during which it is set to acquire substantial new powers and responsibilities under the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill (“DMCC Bill”). In addition to the regulation of digital markets, the CMA confirms its commitment to tackling the cost of living, which will be supported by the direct consumer enforcement powers to be conferred on the CMA under the DMCC Bill.

This briefing summarises the CMA’s focus areas and considers the potential impact on consumers and businesses.

Great choices and fair deals for consumers

With respect to ensuring that people get great choices and fair deals, the CMA will focus on areas of essential spending, such as accommodation, care services and travel. They'll be following up on work on housebuilding and in the private rented sector, which will include publishing updated guidance on the application of consumer protection law for lettings. The CMA will build on its work in the road fuel market, following its market study in 2023, and will also focus on deterring anti-competitive conduct that has direct effects on household and public expenditure (eg cartels in public procurement).

In terms of protecting consumers in digital markets, the CMA will focus on tackling harmful practices in online choice architecture (ie the ways in which businesses present information and choices to users of websites and other online services), and misleading pricing. In 2023, the CMA called on a number of companies to change their online selling practices, so this is an area in which we can expect them to proceed with enforcement action if harmful practices are not amended.

The CMA will also focus on tackling potential competition issues in UK labour markets, following the publication in February 2024 of its report on competition in UK labour markets. See our briefing on that report: "CMA report on competition in UK labour market".

Competitive markets and a productive, sustainable economy

The CMA calls out digital markets and emergent markets in relation to ensuring competitive markets, and a productive and sustainable economy, in which businesses can thrive and innovate. In terms of digital markets, the CMA specifically refers to cloud services (which was referred, in October 2023, by Ofcom to the CMA for an in-depth market investigation), e-commerce and digital advertising. The emergent markets called out by the CMA include the development and deployment of artificial intelligence foundation models (building on the initial review that the CMA conducted in 2023), and emergent markets for sustainable products and services.

Key takeaways

Although the Annual Plan sets out a clear statement of intent that the CMA will continue to focus on markets and issues with a consumer focus, their priority areas are non-exhaustive. So, as always, businesses in other markets and sectors shouldn't rest on their laurels. 

In a similar vein, the DMCC Bill, which is expected to receive Royal Assent in April 2024 and come into force in October 2024, is not only relevant to the firms that the CMA will designate as having Strategic Market Status (“SMS”) in relation to a digital activity. (See here for our briefing on the designation of firms with SMS under the DMCC Bill). The DMCC Bill will, for the first time, also empower the CMA to decide when consumer law has been broken and to impose fines, without the need for court approval. We can expect the CMA to exercise the consumer enforcement powers to be conferred on it under the DMCC Bill across a wide range of sectors and industries in time.  

Businesses should therefore ensure that:

  • They continue to understand how competition and consumer laws apply to their businesses, including the implications of the DMCC Bill
  • Implement appropriate compliance measures to mitigate any risks
  • Keep their compliance measures under regular review, and refresh where needed

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Every piece of content we create is correct on the date it’s published but please don’t rely on it as legal advice. If you’d like to speak to us about your own legal requirements, please contact one of our expert lawyers.

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