The OFT recently took the unprecedented step of proposing 'make good' payments as part of the settlement of its long running Sevenoaks investigation into the private schools market.
As previously reported in this bulletin, the OFT issued a statement of objections against 50 private schools across the UK in November last year. That statement of objections alleged that, by sharing prospective fee information via an annual survey organised by the bursar of Sevenoaks school, the participating schools had breached the UK prohibition on anti competitive practices.
The OFT's case has been consistently and strongly opposed by the schools through the work of the Independent School's Council (ISC). Latterly the ISC set up a steering group which represented the schools in discussions with OFT, through which the proposed settlement has been developed. If accepted, the settlement will involve a £10,000 fine being levied on each school for breach of the prohibition (a small proportion of the 10% of turnover fine that could be imposed). In addition to payment of the fines, each school will agree to make up to four annual payments to a charitable trust. These payments will total over £3m and the proceeds of the trust will be available for distribution (for educational purposes) to pupils who attended the participating schools during the relevant period (2001 - 2004). It is expected that the schools will have accept the proposed settlement.