The Office was established in 1973 to administer aspects of the Restrictive Trade Practices Acts, 1956 to 1973, the Resale Prices Act 1964, and the Fair Trading Act 1973. It acquired from the Department of Trade and Industry some executive responsibilities for consumer affairs and for monopolies and mergers, and it absorbed the Office of the Registrar of Restrictive Trading Agreements. The Office assumed the lead consultative role within the UK for consideration of European Community competition policy matters within articles 85 and 86 of the Treaty of Rome.
The Register of Restrictive Trading Agreements is a public register. It may be seen upon application to the Office of Fair Trading. By June 1972 it already contained 2875 agreements. The Fair Trading Act 1973 very substantially increased the scope of the legislation by extending it to cover services, with effect from 1976.
The Director General of Fair Trading was originally appointed by and answerable in the first instance to the President of the Board of Trade. From 1974 ministerial responsibility has passed successively to the secretaries of state for prices and consumer protection, trade, and trade and industry.
On its establishment in 1973 the Office comprised three operational divisions: Consumer Affairs, Monopolies and Mergers, and Restrictive Trade Practices, plus supporting Legal and Information divisions.
The Consumer Credit Act 1974 provided for the introduction of licensing of companies providing consumer credit, by the Director General, and for the assembly of an open public register of licensees. The introduction of licensing was phased over the years 1976 to 1978, but the Office structure was changed in 1974, the former Monopolies and Mergers and Restrictive Trade Practices divisions coming together as a single Competition Policy Division, and a new Consumer Credit Division being constituted. By 1 July 1978 84000 applications for licenses had been received and nearly 63000 licenses issued. Applications continue to be received and licences, which are for a limited term of years, to be issued or re-issued. This Act also requires the Office to maintain a public register.
During 1976 the legislation governing the first functions of the Office was recast with the passing of the Restrictive Trade Practices Act 1976, the Resale Prices Act 1976, and the Restrictive Trade Practices Court Act 1976.
The Estate Agents Act 1979 conferred powers upon the Director General to prohibit persons from undertaking estate agency work on certain specified grounds. The principal provisions of the Act came into force in 1982. This Act also requires the Office to maintain a public register.
The Competition Act 1980 provided for a more flexible and streamlined procedure for the investigation and control of anti-competitive practices.
At the beginning of 1980 the former Consumer Affairs and Consumer Credit divisions combined to form a new Consumer Affairs Division.
The deregulation of public bus services under the Transport Act 1986 resulted in a substantial additional workload for the Office.
By the Financial Services Act 1986 the Director General was required to examine the rules, regulations, guidance and arrangements made by the various regulatory organisations under the Act, and to report to the Secretary of State his opinion of their effect on competition.The Channel Tunnel Act 1987 gave the Secretary of State order-making powers to amend the application of competition legislation to the construction and operation of the tunnel, and required the Director General to advise him on the implications for competition of any order proposed.
Under the Control of Misleading Advertisements Regulations 1988 the Director General is charged with duties supporting and re-inforcing advertising controls.
Duties in respect of the regulation of auditors were laid upon the Director General by the Companies Act 1989 and the Companies (Northern Ireland) Order 1990.
Duties with regard to the competition effects of the rights of advocacy in the courts were laid upon the Director General by the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990 and the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions)(Scotland) Act 1990.
The Broadcasting Act 1990 gave the Director General two new responsibilities: to examine the channel 3 networking arrangements expected to come into effect in 1992 for their implications for competition; and to report periodically on the BBC's discharge of its obligation effective from 1993 to broadcast a prescribed percentage of independent productions.
In 1991 Consumer Affairs Division was reorganised into six regional teams. 1991 was in addition the first full year of operation of the European Communities merger control regulation, and the Office adopted the policy of analysing EC cases in order to pass the UK view to Brussels.
Under the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1994 the Director General has a duty to consider complaints of unfair standard terms in consumer contracts drawn up on or after 1 July 1995.