View from City Road: OFT reluctant to lift the lid on photocopiers

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The Independent Online
Given the Office of Fair Trading's catalogue of photocopying malpractices, the surprise is that suppliers are not being referred immediately to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. Customers hit by escalating or unexpected charges under obscure and confusing contracts include charities, schools and private individuals, not just businesses.

Sir Bryan Carsberg, the OFT's head, argues that customers are partly to blame for carelessness in signing copier leasing deals. But the OFT report acknowledges that the consumer is often not equipped to stand up to the hard-sell tactics of commission-driven salesmen.

Dealers and leasing companies have indulged in all kinds of excesses to lure customers into arrangements that can result in the unexpected payment of thousands of pounds. It takes an act of faith to believe codes of practice will put this right. Many more contracts will have been agreed by the time Sir Bryan takes another look at the question of a reference in 12 months' time.

Sir Bryan is against legislation if avoidable because it introduces a costly burden on business and could take years to resolve the problem. He also appears to have faith in the industry's desire to clean up its act.

This is an industry in which competition is fierce, and there are more than 1,000 players. An MMC reference would not be straightforward, though Sir Bryan has not rejected one out of hand. But it is hard to see why he is willing to wait so long to make a final decision.

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