The OFT has a wide range of powers to investigate suspected competition law infringements. We can obtain documents and information from businesses suspected of committing an infringement as well as from their competitors, customers or suppliers. We can also enter and, where we have obtained a warrant, search premises.
We will either send a written notice to a business requiring documents and/or information to be provided or visit premises to obtain the information we need.
Anyone who fails to cooperate with the investigation (e.g. does not respond to a notice or refuses to provide requested information or documents), obstructs OFT officials or hides, destroys or falsifies relevant documents may be guilty of a criminal offence punishable by a fine and/or, in some cases, imprisonment.
We can send a written notice to a business to:
• require provision of documents (which includes information recorded in any form)
• require provision of information that is not already written down (e.g. a sales manager might be required to provide estimates of market shares)
• require past or present officers or employees of the business to explain any documents produced.
In some cases, we will visit premises to obtain information.
When entering premises without a warrant, OFT officials have similar powers to request documents as when making written requests. In addition we can take steps to preserve or prevent interference with documents we are entitled to see (e.g. require offices to be sealed for as long as is reasonably necessary).
A warrant gives OFT officials further powers. We can use reasonable force to gain access to the premises. Once we have gained access, we can search the premises for relevant documents and take away copies.
The law provides various safeguards to protect certain information during an investigation. Further details are set out in our guideline Powers of investigation.
In addition to investigating cartels under the Competition Act, the OFT can also investigate cartels under the Enterprise Act 2002 in respect of the criminal cartel offence. See cartels for further information.
Further information is available in our publication Under investigation? and in our more detailed guideline Powers of investigation.
Back to: Competition Act 1998