Pricing of goods and services
Generally, there are no controls on prices in Ireland. This means that, with a few exceptions, there is no legislation explicitly stating what the maximum or the minimum price for any product or service should be. The main reason for this is to promote competition amongst retailers and service providers. It is, however, up to you to 'shop around' for the best value products. If you think the prices of goods or services are too high, you can let the retailer know. You should be aware that the retailer is not committing any offence charging more than their competitors. If you feel you are being overcharged you have the option of purchasing the item or service elsewhere.
S.I. No. 639 of 2002 European Communities (Requirements to Indicate Product Prices) Regulations as well as the various price Display Orders (Catering Display, Petrol and Diesel Display, Drinks Price Display, Hairdressing Display and the Tax Inclusive Display Orders) exist to ensure that consumers have enough information on prices to make comparisons between products and services. Under the EC (Requirements to Indicate Product Prices Regulations) 2002, retailers and service providers must show a price of a product and it must be in euro. Unit prices for products sold by weight, volume or measure must also be shown (for example, price per litre, kilo or metre or square metre). The Consumer Protection Act 2007 prohibits false or misleading indications of the price or the recommended price of goods or services. Prices displayed must be complete, and there should be no hidden charges included. Under the Prices and Charges (Tax- Inclusive Statements) Order 1973 all prices for goods and services available to the consumer must be inclusive of all taxes including Value Added Tax (VAT). Exceptions to this are when the goods are intended solely for a business customer (such as machinery hire shops etc.). There are also specific laws concerning the display of prices in Bars, Restaurants, Service Stations and Hairdressers.
If a retailer makes a mistake and the actual price for the item is more than that displayed the retailers have certain rights. They do not automatically have to sell you the goods at the price stated. It is the retailer's responsibility to correct the mistake as soon as possible. If the retailer knowingly charges more for a product than is displayed an offence may be committed. Generally, if you are told the correct price before you pay, you have no right to redress. If you notice the error after you have paid, you should bring the matter to the retailer's attention who, most likely, would refund you the difference. You could also report the matter to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission. The office will investigate the complaint with the objective of ensuring future compliance with the Act. This however does not mean financial redress for the individual complainant.
Your rights are exactly the same when you buy items or services in a sale as at any other time. If a reduction is displayed on an item, the previous price must have been valid for 28 days over the previous three months.
Regulation of prices
Some prices (especially services / utilities) are regulated. This means that the service provider or retailer must apply to the industry regulator for approval for any price increase. The most notable examples include electricity, telecommunications and postal services. In these cases, the suppliers of electricity must apply to the Commission for Regulation of Utilities. Suppliers of these services may not charge more than the approved prices. Suppliers of financial services do not have to apply for approval for price changes. (For example, where there is a change to bank charges, or interest rates). However financial service providers must inform their regulator, the Central Bank of Ireland about any such changes.
Unit pricing is a useful tool for comparing prices. It is most useful when comparing food and grocery prices when products come in different size packages. The price for a product tells you how much you pay for an item. The unit price, however, tells you the price of a Kg, litre, metre, square metre or cubic metre. Unit pricing helps you compare costs of different brands and various sizes without doing complicated calculations. The law, (SI 639 of 2002) sets down that unit prices must be displayed on or close to the item. There are exceptions for traders who do not have equipment for printing shelf-edge labels or for point-of-sale scanning. The Regulations only apply to products being sold to the consumer.
By using unit pricing, you can easily compare the cost of any brand and any package size. Remember to compare only similar items. Unit pricing will not help you compare nutritional value or other factors you wish to consider, such as convenience and personal tastes
Competition in the marketplace
Competition law in Ireland exists to protect and benefit consumers. Anti-competitive practices are business practices which prevent or reduce competition in a market. Anti-competitive behaviour by businesses may result in consumers paying higher prices. The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission exists to ensure that anti-competitive behaviour does not occur. If you find that all suppliers are charging the same price for an item or service this may constitute anti-competitive behaviour and should be reported to the Commission. Read more about making a complaint to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission here.
Anti-competitive practices include:
- Price fixing, where companies collude to set prices. That is businesses selling the same item or service agree what prices should be charged for a particular product or service.
- Tying, where different products are linked together to prevent consumer choice.
- Resale price maintenance, where resellers are not allowed to set prices independently.
It is usually difficult for a business to use anti-competitive practices unless the parties involved have significant market power.
How to apply
If you have a complaint regarding the pricing of any good or service, you should begin by taking this up with the retailer. There may be a simple explanation, such as the item was mislabelled. Read more about making a consumer complaint here.
If you are still unhappy with your complaint on pricing matters you should then contact the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission or the industry regulators.
Where to apply