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Thousands of complaints received over price spikes for hygiene essentials

The Competition and Markets Authority saw 21,000 complaints and has written to nearly 200 businesses warning them not to inflate prices.

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Hand sanitiser has been in short supply (Simon Cooper/PA)

Hand sanitiser has been in short supply (Simon Cooper/PA)

Hand sanitiser has been in short supply (Simon Cooper/PA)

Nearly 21,000 complaints have been made by the public over retailers and businesses trying to rip off shoppers with inflated prices for essentials including hand sanitiser and cleaning products, officials have said.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launched an investigation at the beginning of March and said on Friday it has since written to 187 businesses following 2,500 complaints relating just to those firms.

But with retail stock supplies returning to normal levels, the watchdog said four-out-of-five complaints are now related to consumers struggling to get refunds for cancelled events.

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There were empty shelves as hand sanitiser products sold out in the weeks leading up to lockdown (Yui Mok / PA)

There were empty shelves as hand sanitiser products sold out in the weeks leading up to lockdown (Yui Mok / PA)

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There were empty shelves as hand sanitiser products sold out in the weeks leading up to lockdown (Yui Mok / PA)

The new taskforce will set out its next steps for cracking down on businesses who continue to flout the rules.

It said: “The majority of businesses are behaving in a reasonable way at this time, but the CMA will not hesitate to take enforcement action if there is evidence that businesses have breached competition or consumer protection law.”

Shoppers have reported some shops inflating prices, with some pharmacies changing over-the-odds for sanitser and toilet rolls.

However, many small businesses say they are being ripped off by suppliers who have upped their prices too.

The CMA said it is also looking at the behaviour of manufacturers and wholesalers over their charging policies during the lockdown.

At the start of March, as the Covid-19 outbreak was spreading through Europe, stores in the UK were being forced to limit purchases to avoid running out.

The CMA said it would start monitoring the issue and consider implementing pricing measures for certain products if problems arise.

Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct risked becoming one of the biggest casualties of the CMA’s new probe after it was revealed by the PA news agency that staff had been ordered to increase prices on home fitness equipment the day after the Government announced the lockdown.

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Sports Direct’s price rises introduced the day after lockdown was announced (PA Graphics)

Sports Direct’s price rises introduced the day after lockdown was announced (PA Graphics)

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Sports Direct’s price rises introduced the day after lockdown was announced (PA Graphics)

But with retail settling, the next problem comes for customers desperate to get refunds on holidays, weddings and events planned through the summer.

Airlines and travel agents, such as Lastminute.com, are trying to hand out vouchers in lieu of cash to thousands of passengers who are unable to travel, despite many wanting their money back as the economy takes a hit.

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