Financial Conduct Authority  

FCA will act on unfair pricing

FCA will act on unfair pricing

The Financial Conduct Authority has said it will act to protect all consumers affected by price discrimination in the financial services market and not just those deemed to be vulnerable. 

But the financial regulator admitted it would be "more likely" to intervene if price discrimination in the industry resulted in harm to vulnerable customers. 

The City-watchdog today (July 18) published a feedback statement on fair pricing in financial services, following a discussion paper last year which called for input on the issue of pricing discrimination in the market. 

The regulator's debate focused on firms charging different prices to different consumers based solely on differences in their ability to pay, also known as "price discrimination", and firms charging existing customers higher prices than new customers, sometimes referred to as "loyalty pricing" or "inertia pricing". 

The FCA said whilst these practices were not always unfair it has concerns that in "some forms" they can potentially disadvantage some consumers "significantly". 

Earlier this year Citizens Advice launched a super-complaint with the Competition and Markets Authority calling for the ‘loyalty penalty’ currently paid by consumers across the industry to be remedied, including those in the mortgages and savings market. 

Since then the FCA has been urged to take "strong action" against firms levying a loyalty penalty, an issue the CMA stated last month remained a "great concern". 

In today's statement the regulator said it expects all firms to exercise "extra care" when dealing with the issue of pricing where consumers may be vulnerable. 

The FCA said: "In considering whether there is consumer harm from an unfair pricing practice, we will look at the types of consumers affected and whether they are able to act to mitigate any harm.

"As outlined in our 'Approach to Consumers' publication, we have a general principle that consumers should take responsibility for their choices and decisions. However, we know that there are real factors that might limit certain consumers' ability to do so." 

The FCA said it had been asked by respondents to its discussion paper on fair pricing to clarify the relationship between "fairness and vulnerability". 

According to the regulator, one submission stressed consumers may not prioritise financial matters during periods of ill-health and therefore had little choice but to renew with their existing provider and "accept this means paying a higher price". 

Other respondents told the FCA it should consider inertia pricing fair if a firm's pricing structures are transparent, price increases are clearly explained at the point of purchase, consumers are notified of pricing changes just before they happen, and there are no barriers to changing provider.

But the regulator said views surrounding this issue "varied significantly" with other respondents raising concerns over the complexity of "navigating financial services" and arguing firms must go further to support consumers. 

The FCA said: "We think there is more work for us to establish the factors... that will determine when we are more likely to be concerned about the fairness of a given pricing practice.