UK Government Considering Reforms to Improve Unit Pricing

In July the UK’s competition regulator (the Competition and Markets Authority) recommended legislative and other changes designed to improve the effectiveness of the mandatory unit pricing system.

As a result the UK government included possible unit pricing reforms in a consultation document “Smarter Regulation: Consultation on Improving Price Transparency and Product Information for Consumers” released in September (available here) and is now considering stakeholder responses.

The possible changes to the unit pricing legislation mentioned in the consultation paper are mainly to:

  • simplify requirements on unit pricing so it is more consistently applied,
  • clarify requirements on legibility and on how promotional pricing should be displayed,
  • review the “small shops” exemption.

However, stakeholder submissions have also identified other changes which would increase the effectiveness and consumer use of unit pricing, including changes to weights and measures legislation.

The UK’s unit pricing system has changed little since it started in 1999 despite much consumer advocacy for improvements and a previous government consultation that did not result in significant improvements to display quality, unit of measure consistency, or compliance with the legislation.

However, the Minister’s statements in the Foreword suggest that this consultation may result in significant improvements to unit pricing. For example, the statements include:

“Information and consumer transparency is not a luxury or a nice to have, it is a must.”

“Choice and information go hand in hand, and in this economic climate it is even more important. When shopping for your groceries, you should know at a glance which products are best value.”

“Clearer information allows consumers to make more informed choices, thereby encouraging producers to compete with one another. Increased competition amongst producers generally leads to better functioning markets, including higher quality products, innovation, and price reductions. These changes further improve consumers’ ability to gain welfare from their consumer spend.”

Queensland Consumers Association spokesperson Ian Jarratt says the Australian grocery unit pricing system also needs to be improved. The Albanese government should follow the UK government’s example and act now to improve the quality of the unit pricing provided by grocery retailers and, as in the UK, also require provision by other relevant retailers such as chemists, hardware stores and pet supplies retailers.

Ian Jarratt, Queensland Consumers Association