(Dec 2006) A law firm is urging football fans to claim compensation for being overcharged for replica shirts. Clyde & Co has placed an advert asking fans to get in contact if they bought England or Manchester United shirts in 2000 or 2001.
Several sportswear retailers were fined by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) in 2003 for illegally fixing the price of these shirts. Clyde & Co says a new law means consumers can now sue the price fixers.
The law firm is acting on behalf of the consumers' association Which? because the organisation is attempting to launch a representative action on behalf of people who bought the shirts.
No win, no fee
The advert has been placed in the football magazine When Saturday Comes, urging affected fans to sign up with the law firm on a "no win, no fee" basis.
It says it is interested in hearing from customers even if they no longer have proof of purchase such as a receipt.
The OFT spent two years investigating complaints from retailers that manufacturers had refused to supply them with the shirts because they planned to sell them at a discount.
Ten companies - including Manchester United and the Football Association - were eventually fined more than £16m for colluding amongst themselves to keep the price of the replica shirts artificially high.
The sportswear retailer JJB Sports was fined £6.3m, shirt manufacturer Umbro £5.3m and Manchester United £1.5m.
Which? is planning to use powers granted to it under the Enterprise Act for the first time.
This gave it the power to go to the Competition Appeals Tribunal to claim compensation for a group of consumers.
A spokeswoman said: "If a company has been found guilty of price fixing, the powers we have are, potentially, to claim some money back."
However, it is not an open and shut case.
Which? said it did not know how many people would respond to its advert and admitted it might have difficulty establishing that any of the individuals had clearly lost money.
As a result it might not, in fact, end up launching a formal claim.
"It's not always easy to establish individual loss," admitted the spokeswoman.
further reading about Office of Fair Trading (OFT) in 2003
Football fans won't lose shirts in legal battle
A new law means thousands of football fans could win compensation against retailers found guilty of price-fixing replica shirts.
The proposed claim follows a successful prosecution which fined ten businesses - including JJB Sports and Allsports, Umbro, Manchester United and the Football Association - a total of £18.6m for overcharging for England and United shirts in the 2000/1 and 2001/2 seasons.
The Enterprise Act now makes it easier for consumers to bring a claim against companies like this - as they no longer have to pay costs if they lose.
"A new law about collective claims has given consumers a new weapon. Before that, anyone taking individual action would have faced big obstacles," Mark Warrington, a competition lawyer at Clyde & Co, said.
Solicitors believe the conned fans could win up to £20 compensation for each shirt as supporters would have paid up to £45 for Umbro shirts, which cost as little as £7 to make, after the sellers acted together to hike up the price.
The Consumers' Association magazine which is behind the move, using the powers of the new Act, said that a receipt does not necessarily have to be produced.
Replica shirts prompt multi-million pound legal action
Manchester United and England fans are being urged to join an action against sportswear retailers found guilty of illegally fixing replica shirt prices. The law firm Clyde & Co is seeking claimants to join a multimillion-pound action against retailers who operated a cartel during the 2000-01 and 2001-02 seasons, and has taken out adverts in regional papers to find them.
The proposed claim follows an Office of Fair Trading prosecution in 2003 that fined ten businesses including JJB Sports and Allsports, the shirt manufacturer Umbro, Manchester United and the Football Association a total of £18.6m for engaging in price-fixing. JJB were fined £8.3m and Umbro £6.6m, although both fines were reduced on appeal in 2005.The new claim seeks to exploit a recent amendment to competition law that allows consumers to seek individual redress from the competition appeals tribunal on a no-fee basis.
In the first case of its kind lawyers will seek to recover £15-£20 on every England and Manchester United shirt purchased from relevant retailers during the two seasons covered by the OFT ruling, though they have not yet finalised which retailers they will target.
Mark Warrington, a competition lawyer at Clyde & Co, said: "We are trying to pull together people who purchased England or Man United shirts in the relevant period to make a claim on the grounds that had it not been for the fact a cartel was in operation the shirts would have been significantly cheaper."
Warrington accepted that it was unusual for a solicitor to advertise for claimants, but said it was the only way of identifying those who may have been affected.