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An open letter to electric vehicle (EV) charging operators reminding them of their ongoing obligations under competition law has been published by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) as it pushes to address shortcomings so far.

The lengthy three-page letter is directed at chargepoint operators (CPOs) and motorway service area (MSA) site operators and references the CMA’s 2021 EV charging market study, which made several recommendations to help encourage drivers to switch to EV’s as part of its strategic focus to help accelerate the UK’s transition to a net zero economy.

The study stressed the importance of unlocking investment in the EV charging sector, opening up competition and building people’s trust.

However, the CMA refers to suspected breaches of the Competition Act 1988 that it has already investigated in relation to the supply of EV chargepoints on or near motorways. In particular it launched a competition law case into long-term exclusive arrangements for the supply of EV chargepoints entered into between Gridserve Holdings Ltd and three MSA site operators (Moto Holdings Ltd, Roadchef Ltd and Extra MSA Property (UK) Ltd and a number of its subsidiaries). 

The case followed concerns that lengthy exclusivity arrangements for the supply of EV chargepoints would discourage other CPOs from entering the market and thereby impede the effective rollout of the £950m Rapid Charging Fund (RCF) - a key factor in helping to open up competition at MSA sites.

The enforcement action resulted in commitments from all of those involved – including commitments to reduce the length of exclusivity periods, and to not enforce exclusive rights at any MSA site that is granted RCF funding.

The CMA said in its letter: “While we welcome increased private investment and efforts which help to boost charging infrastructure along motorways, it is critical that this investment is carried out in a way that is compliant with competition law and ensures operators can enter and compete fairly.

”Arrangements which lead to long-term exclusivity between CPOs and MSA site operators and/or incumbency of a single operator at a site or across multiple sites, could breach competition law. In the long term, opening up charging at MSA sites to multiple CPOs will give drivers a choice of operators; competition within sites will also help deliver better outcomes for drivers (for example in terms of reliability and quality of charging).”

The letter also reminded operators of its findings on the public charging experience, particularly as regards reliability of chargepoints, and the need for all chargepoints to be interoperable with all EV models. 

The CMA also welcomed the forthcoming public chargepoint regulations which will “help to bring about changes in these areas when they come into effect: “It is crucial that CPOs engage with the regulations now to help ready themselves for compliance”, wrote the CMA.

RAC head of policy Simon Williams said: “There’s no question that EV drivers need a robust rapid charging network across the UK, and none more so than at motorway services, so we are pleased the Competition and Markets Authority is taking early action to ensure there will be plenty of charging operators to choose from in the future.

“Unfortunately, while progress is being made, the current state of rapid charging on the motorway isn’t as good as it should be. RAC analysis of charging facilities at motorway services shows the Government’s target of having six high-powered chargers at all of England’s 119 services by the end of the year is unlikely to be met, with only a quarter having that amount in May. Much of the continued transition to zero-emission driving depends on would-be EV drivers knowing they can quickly, simply and affordably recharge their cars on long journeys, so getting more chargers from more operators installed in the shortest possible time is crucial.”