Unscrupulous traders profiteering by exploiting Covid-19 warned

Date published: 28 April 2020

Trading Standards and The Consumer Council are warning unscrupulous traders to stop exploiting the Covid-19 pandemic to profiteer, or face action.


Whilst recognising the efforts of retailers to keep chains open during difficult times, the joint warning comes after complaints from consumers in relation to price gouging. Price gouging or profiteering is the practice of increasing the price of goods or services unreasonably.

Customers across Northern Ireland have reported seeing small bottles of hand sanitiser being sold for £13.50, eight kitchen rolls for £15, individual toilet rolls being sold from a multi-pack, liquid paracetamol increasing from £3.69 to £7.49 and meat packs more than doubling in price.

Trading Standards Service has already issued a number of enforcement notices to traders engaging in profiteering as well as monitoring online shopping sites, social media ‘buy and sell’ pages and online marketplaces.

Having received a high volume of reports of price gouging, Damien Doherty, Chief Inspector of the Trading Standards Service, said: “Like most people, my Consumer Council colleagues and I are concerned by the behaviour of a small number of businesses at this time. The vast majority of businesses have responded responsibly and demonstrated all that is good about business in Northern Ireland, however, there is a minority engaged in profiteering.

“Those inflating prices to profit off the backs of their communities are adding to their distress and may be severely damaging their reputation. Consumers in Northern Ireland are likely to remember those businesses who attempted to profiteer and may well vote with their wallets once this crisis ends. I would encourage anyone who feels that business has unfairly inflated the price of goods or services to contact us at Consumerline on 0300 123 6262."

John French, Chief Executive of the Consumer Council, said: “We are aware it is only a very small number of sellers who are unfairly inflating their prices.  The Consumer Council acknowledges that the majority of traders are not doing this and important to celebrate the good work retailers are doing to keep the supply chain going under such challenging circumstances. However, we have seen evidence that price gouging is taking place and we are calling on retailers to ensure they are giving consumers a fair price.”

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has launched a taskforce to crackdown on businesses that may be engaging in price gouging and to consider whether there have been any legal breaches. CMA will take enforcement action if it finds that competition or consumer law has been broken and is asking consumers to report business that are behaving unfairly by visiting the GOV.UK webpage

Notes to editors: 

1. The Price Marking (Northern Ireland) Order 2004 requires all goods offered for sale to consumers to be priced, and any prices must be clearly legible, 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 assistance to determine it. Prices can be:

  • shown on goods themselves
  • on a ticket or notice near to the goods (such as on a shelf edge)
  • grouped together with other prices on a list or catalogue(s) in close proximity to the goods. If counter catalogues are used, then there should be sufficient copies for consumers to refer to.

2. Inflated Prices - There is no specific legislation which sets a maximum price which traders can charge for goods. 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, so long as the price is made known to consumers beforehand.

3. However the Competition and Markets Authority wants to ensure 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 via their webpage

4. Misleading Prices - The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 prohibit businesses from misleading consumers about the price of goods or services. Businesses must ensure 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. A breach of the Regulations constitutes a criminal offence.

5. If you have been misled by a business about the price of goods or services, you should report the matter to the Trading Standards Service by contacting Consumerline: Email: consumerline@economy-ni.gov.uk  Tel: 0300 123 6262

6. For media enquiries contact the Department for the Economy Press Office at pressoffice@economy-ni.gov.uk. Out of office hours please contact the Duty Press Officer on 028 9037 8110.

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