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Be careful what you discuss with competitors down the pub, warns CMA

Latest but mildly Orwellian guidance from competitions watchdog briefs agents about the kinds of chats to avoid while socialising informally and formally.

Nigel Lewis

CMA

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has warned agents who attend informal and formal industry gatherings how careful they need to be when chatting with competitors.

The hundreds, if not thousands of informal and formal property industry gatherings in pubs, hotels, golf courses and cafes up and down the country every year can lead agents to “fall foul of competition law”, the CMA warns in its latest guidance.

It also highlights within the guidance somewhat ominously the combined £750,000 fine it slapped on a local trade association, three estate agents and a newspaper publisher for cartel activity in 2015.

Even the most mundane conversation can cross the line and members of trade associations “must be mindful of their conduct in relation to other members of their trade association who are likely to be actual or potential competitors of theirs,” it says.

“Trade associations and their members need to be alive to evolving risks of breaking competition law when discussing issues facing their industry.

“Topics such as salary benchmarking or perhaps an industry ‘commercial response’ to economic or structural changes in the market may fall into this category.”

Other types of conversation agents should be wary of include future pricing, discounts, and how a business plans to react to a change in local market conditions.

The CMA admits it can be “tricky territory to know what is and isn’t off limits when attending a trade association gathering and chatting business with your competitors” and urges agents to be up to date with competition law.

Last week the watchdog announced it has begun an investigation into potential cartel activity among a local group of agents, although details of where and what has been going on have yet to be released.

Read more about CMA cases.

March 9, 2018

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