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Enterprise Act 2002

Section 30: Relevant customer benefits

121.This section defines the benefits to customers that the authorities can take into account. They are benefits in the form of lower prices, greater innovation, greater choice or higher quality in a UK market. Customer benefits may be relevant to decisions of the OFT and the CC in two main situations:

  • the OFT has a duty to refer mergers that it believes may result in a substantial lessening of competition, with some limited exceptions. One of the circumstances where the OFT may decide not to refer is where it expects customer benefits to outweigh the substantial lessening of competition;

  • if a merger is referred, the CC is required to determine whether a merger will result in a substantial lessening of competition. If the CC makes such a determination, it has a duty to apply remedies. At the stage when the CC is deciding on remedies, the Act enables it, in particular, to have regard to customer benefits (see note on section 41). The CC will have scope to apply lesser competition remedies than would otherwise be the case. This scope would extend, at one extreme, to clearing a merger without any conditions if the customer benefits are of sufficient importance and nothing can be done about the competition problems without eliminating the relevant customer benefit that the CC wishes to recognise.

122.Relevant customer benefits are narrowly defined. They are not expected to arise very often. They must be in the form of lower prices, greater innovation, greater choice or higher quality in a UK market. This definition is related to the competition test because the benefits are ones that would normally be expected to arise in a fully competitive market.

123.The definition is further narrowed in the following ways:

  • the authority has to have an expectation that the benefits will be realised within a reasonable time-frame as a result of the merger;

  • the authority has to consider that the benefits are unlikely to arise without the merger (unless the only other ways of realising the customer benefit would have a similarly detrimental effect on competition);

  • relevant customers are limited to the customers of the merged or merging entity. The term also extends to other customers provided they are in a chain of customers beginning with the immediate customers of the merging entity. In both cases, the term extends to future customers because in some circumstances a merger can lead to the development of new products or services and the creation of new markets.

124.Both the OFT and the CC will be required to produce information and advice respectively about the making and consideration of references. This will include information and advice about their application of the customer benefits concept. Examples of mergers that might – depending on the specific circumstances – generate customer benefits that could be taken into account by the OFT in deciding whether to make a reference, or by the CC in determining remedies, are as follows:

  • a merger producing so-called ‘network benefits’. A merger might give customers of one enterprise improved access to a wider network operated by the other enterprise, with the wider choice of complementary products that this brings. For example, in mobile telecommunications, the more users who join a particular mobile network, the more valuable the network becomes to those users as they can contact more people, in more locations, at lower cost as the network increases. In the transport sector, network benefits can improve service quality through strengthened hubs, better through-ticketing arrangements or better-connected services;

  • mergers leading to large economies of scale where the effect of scale economies on prices is sufficient to outweigh the effect of a substantial lessening of competition. Such circumstances could lead to an overall reduction in prices and be beneficial to both consumers and business, provided that the authorities were satisfied that the economies of scale would be realised in spite of a significant reduction in competition and that prices after the merger would remain lower than they were pre-merger;

  • mergers producing more innovation through research and development benefits. Investment in research and development often involves large fixed costs and there may be circumstances where critical mass is needed – in terms of research expertise or capital or both – that can only be secured through a merger.

125.These examples are illustrative only, and should not be regarded as pre-judging what may or may not be included in the advice published by the competition authorities.

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