Saturday, June 22, 2024

Vets market faces competition probe amid cost concerns

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The UK’s competition body is to forge ahead with an inquiry into the vets market amid concerns that pet owners are overpaying for treatments.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said it had heard from thousands of people who were struggling to pay vet bills and did not always know the best treatment options for their pets.

The vet industry is worth £2bn after pet ownership rose to two-thirds of UK households during the coronavirus pandemic.

The British Vet Association said regulation of the sector was “woefully out of date” as it welcomed the review.

The CMA launched a review last year to ask people if they had any concerns that they could be paying too much, and received 56,000 responses from pet owners, vets and charities.

Earlier this year it flagged concerns that pet owners might not be getting basic information like price lists online and were not always informed of the cost of treatment at a vets before agreeing to it.

The CMA is now launching a formal investigation, which means it could intervene directly in the market in the future.

The regulator outlined three tips for pet owners when looking for treatments:

  • Look further than the closes vet as fees and services differ between practices
  • Ask if there are other treatment options
  • If the treatment is not urgent, consider buying medication elsewhere such as an online pharmacy or specialist pet shop

“The message from our vets work so far has been loud and clear – many pet owners and professionals have concerns that need further investigation,” said Sarah Cardell, the CMA’s chief executive.

“We’ve heard from people who are struggling to pay vet bills, potentially overpaying for medicines and don’t always know the best treatment options available to them,” she said.

“We also remain concerned about the potential impact of sector consolidation and the incentives for large, integrated vet groups to act in ways which reduce consumer choice.”

The watchdog said the inquiry would look at:

  • whether consumers were getting the right information to make informed decisions
  • if a limited choice of vets in some areas was affecting pet owners
  • the level of profits earned by vet businesses
  • whether vet businesses have the incentive and ability to limit consumer choice when providing treatments or services
  • whether the regulation of the market needs changing

The formal investigation means the CMA could step in and force companies to make changes.

It cited possible remedies could include forcing firms to provide certain information to consumers, imposing maximum prescription fees, and ordering the sale or break-up of businesses.

Malcolm Morley, the British Vet Association’s senior vice president, told the BBC’s Today programme that the trade body was “very keen” on the inquiry and it had been working closely with CMA in recent months.

“Some of the points the CMA raises are things that we’ve been raising for a long time,” he said.

“The regulation of vets and veterinary practices is woefully out of date, not fit for purpose.”

He added that the area of buying treatments online also needed looking at.

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