Up to 16 million pet owners likely overcharged at the vet in the UK

The UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) published its main concerns following an initial review into the veterinary sector.
The UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) published its main concerns following an initial review into the veterinary sector. Copyright Andrew Ford/AP
By Euronews
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Large corporate groups, concentrated local markets and lack of proper information may lead to weakened competition and pet owners being overcharged for their animals' medicine, the UK competition authority warns.

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The UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said it has concerns over a lack of transparency in the veterinarian industry, affecting both pet owners and vets alike. 

The competition authority said on Tuesday that it received over 56,000 responses from the industry and its clients during a survey conducted last September, suggesting that pet owners may be overpaying for medicines and not being given enough information about treatments.

Overcharged pet owners

The UK's 16 million pet owners have been or are at risk of being overcharged due to the dysfunctional system in place, the CMA warned. 

It said that a lack of information is the main issue leading to overpricing, with 80% of veterinarians not clearly displaying their fees on their websites. 

Another 80% of pet owners said they were not informed of the cost of tests they agreed to put their animals through, and 90% did not receive proper pricing before their pets had surgery. 

The CMA is worried that vet practices, which earn up to a quarter of their income from selling medicine, aren't always informing clients about the option to get a prescription and buy it elsewhere - 25% of pet owners weren't aware this was possible.

"As the legislation stands, it’s not fit for purpose and is failing both vet teams and clients," said the British Veterinary Association (BVA) in a statement.

Concentrated local markets and weakened competition

Vet clinics often belong to the same company but don't always make this clear, leading clients to believe they have more options than they do. 

Six major corporate groups, including CVS, IVC, Linnaeus, Medivet, Pets at Home, and VetPartners, own nearly 60% of vet practices in the UK.

"We are 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," said CMA CEO Sarah Cardell. 

A rabbit in for a check-up at a vet clinic
A rabbit in for a check-up at a vet clinicCanva

The competition authority is worried that pet owners have limited choices for affordable pet care. Routine check-ups may not always require expensive treatments, but big groups with sophisticated equipment might push for them.

The corporations that own most of the UK's pet practices often own external businesses, offering services such as lab testing or cremation, and may have incentive to keep the overall pet care within the same group. 

The CMA recommends updating the regulatory framework currently in place, which was put in place back in 1966 and which is says is out of touch with today's reality. 

The UK's competition authority said it has launched a large consultation ending on 11 April, to seek views from the sector and improve outcomes for consumers.

“We’re pleased to see the CMA acknowledging the need for reform of the outdated Veterinary Surgeons Act and for regulation of vet practices, something we have been calling for," said the BVA in a statement.

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