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Investigation Launched into Alleged Anti-Competitive Behaviour by ESS SIMS

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is delving into potential misconduct by Education Software Solutions Ltd (ESS), amid suspicions that the company may have abused its dominant position. At the core of the investigation is whether ESS has unlawfully obstructed schools from transitioning to alternative management information system (MIS) providers.

Numerous complaints have been logged by the CMA, alleging that ESS has employed tactics to hinder schools from switching to different MIS providers before contract renewal dates, possibly in an attempt to secure customer retention. These complaints have been voiced by schools and local authorities, echoing concerns prevalent across the education sector.

Of particular concern to the CMA is ESS’s purported reluctance to facilitate the transfer of school databases to new providers. Schools claim they’ve been cautioned by ESS that sharing their database with competitors would infringe upon ESS’s intellectual property rights. Such actions, if proven, could severely impede schools’ ability to transition to alternative providers, as database sharing is a common practice in the sector.

While ESS permits some methods of switching, they are reported to be convoluted, time-consuming, and prone to errors. Additionally, alternative solutions proposed by schools and competitors have allegedly been met with resistance from ESS.

The CMA will conduct a thorough investigation into ESS’s practices to ascertain whether they contravene competition law. Interim measures may be considered to prevent further harm while the investigation proceeds. If substantiated, these allegations could constitute a breach of competition law.

Juliette Enser, Interim Executive Director of Competition Enforcement, expressed the urgency of the matter, stating that the CMA will swiftly investigate ESS’s conduct to address the grievances raised, she commented:

“We’re concerned about the complaints we’ve received regarding ESS’s alleged behaviour. As such, we’ll be investigating their conduct with urgency to get to the bottom of the matter.

Management information systems are an integral part of protecting schools’ data, reducing costs, and safeguarding students. It’s essential that schools are able to pick the most appropriate system for their needs – and change providers with ease when their contract is up.”

This investigation follows previous scrutiny of ESS in 2022, when the company committed to rectify concerns regarding its dominance in the market. The current investigation focuses on a separate potential abuse of dominance and is conducted under the Competition Act 1998.

The CMA has launched this investigation under section 25 of the Competition Act 1998 following reasonable grounds to suspect there had been an infringement of competition law. If the CMA decides that there has been a breach of competition law, it can impose a fine up to 10% of ESS’s worldwide turnover, as well as issue legally binding directions to bring the breach to an end.

The Chapter II prohibition in the Competition Act 1998 prohibits any conduct which amounts to the abuse of a dominant position in a market, and which may affect trade within the UK.

Here is the link to the information on the CMA website:

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