Monday, August 9, 1999 Published at 13:13 GMT 14:13 UK
Business: Your Money
'Rip-off' companies face huge fines
The fines are one of a series of measures aimed at protecting consumers
Companies involved in price-fixing could be fined millions of pounds under plans announced by the government.
The new laws are due to come into force next March, and could result in fines of more than £100m.
The Trade and Industry Secretary, Stephen Byers, wants to crack down on firms which overcharge or join price-fixing cartels.
"For too long the British consumer has paid the price for uncompetitive behaviour through higher costs," he said.
"With these new penalties it will be the companies who flout the law that will pay the price."
The government has made it clear in recent weeks that it is determined to stamp out what it has described as the culture of "rip-off Britain".
And there will be new powers to stop con artists and rogue traders from doing business.
A White Paper published in July contained 70 measures to protect consumers, including a digital kitemark system for Internet traders and a consumer advice Website.
'We need confident consumers'
Mr Byers said then: "We need to recognise that many people feel they are living in 'rip-off Britain'.
"We don't want to create an army of Victor Meldrews, but we do need more confident and informed consumers."
The power to impose penalties will rest with John Bridgeman, the Director General of the OFT.
Last month, the UK arm of Volvo admitted it had been involved in price-fixing.
Mr Bridgeman agreed to accept a promise of future good behaviour rather than sending the case to the Restrictive Practices Court, which could merely have ordered Volvo not to do it again.
Under the new law, the company could have been fined up to £70m.
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