Coronavirus (COVID-19): consumer advice about price of goods and services

During the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic many consumers will want to make sure that they are informed of their legal rights in relation to the price of goods and services. Over the past number of weeks, Consumerline has received information about businesses behaving unfairly by charging unjustifiably high prices, particularly for essential goods.

Inflated prices

Current legislation does not tackle circumstances where a business increases the price of goods or services unreasonably - a practice commonly referred to as profiteering or price gouging.

This is because businesses are free to set the price they wish to charge for goods or services, as long as the price is made known to consumers beforehand.

However, the Competition and Markets Authority wants to make sure that businesses do not exploit the current health emergency to take advantage of consumers, and is advising consumers to report instances of price gouging to them at this link:

Price transparency

All goods offered for sale to consumers must be priced, and any prices must be easy to read, unambiguous, easily identifiable and inclusive of VAT and any additional taxes.

The selling price should be available without the public having to ask a member of staff for help to find it.

Prices can be:

  • shown on goods themselves
  • on a ticket or notice near to the goods (such as on a shelf edge)

or

  • grouped together with other prices on a list or catalogue(s) near to the goods - if counter catalogues are used, then there should be enough copies for consumers to refer to

Pricing errors

The price of goods or services is a key part of a contract (a legally-binding agreement) between a consumer and a business.

In circumstances where a business has made a pricing error, but where no money has been paid by the consumer, the trader is entitled to refuse to sell the goods at the advertised price.

This is because no contract has been formed between the consumer and the business, and therefore the consumer cannot insist upon the price, because a price had not been agreed.

The business must make sure that the pricing error is corrected as soon as possible.

However, where a contract for goods or services has been completed between a consumer and a business, and a price has been paid, the business cannot change the price afterwards.

In circumstances where a business refuses to honour the contract, by supplying the goods or services for the agreed price, the consumer may be entitled to claim damages for loss of bargain.

Misleading prices

Businesses are not allowed by law to mislead consumers about the price of goods or services.

Businesses must make sure they don’t mislead consumers by giving false information, or by leaving out information as to the price of a product or the way the price is calculated.

It is a criminal offence if a business misleads like this.

Report an issue to Consumerline

If you have been misled by a business about the price of goods or services, you should report it to the Trading Standards Service by contacting Consumerline online or by phone or email.

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