Regulator to launch formal investigation into vet costs

Regulator to launch formal investigation into vet costs

The UK competition regulator is set to launch a formal investigation into the veterinary market after identifying “multiple concerns” in an initial review, including that pet owners may be overpaying for treatments and medicines.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said it wanted to move forward with a full review after an initial inquiry triggered an “unprecedented response” from 56,000 people, including customers and vet professionals, who raised a number of concerns about practices within the £2bn industry.

The watchdog is concerned that consumers may not be given enough information to make informed decisions over care, and that a rise in consolidation resulting in fewer independent surgeries has weakened competition.

Since 2013, about 1,500 of the 5,000 vet practices in the UK have been acquired by six of the largest corporate groups: CVS, IVC, Linnaeus, Medivet, Pets at Home and VetPartners, the CMA said.

Sarah Cardell, the CMA chief executive, said: “Our review has identified multiple concerns with the market that we think should be investigated further. These include pet owners finding it difficult to access basic information like price lists and prescription costs – and potentially overpaying for medicines.

“We are also concerned about weak competition in some areas, driven in part by sector consolidation, and the incentives for large corporate groups to act in ways which may reduce competition and choice.

“Given these strong indications of potential concern, it is time to put our work on a formal footing. We have provisionally decided to launch a market investigation because that’s the quickest route to enable us to take direct action, if needed.”

Independent vet practices accounted for 45% of UK veterinary practices in 2021, down from 89% in 2013. The number of pet owners has also increased, primarily as a result of the pandemic, with about 17m households having a furry companion in the UK.