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Regulation & Law

Three Berkshire estate agencies fined a total of £600,000 over illegal price fixing cartel

Agencies Michael Hardy, Prospect and Richard Worth will jointly pay the fine but a fourth guilty company, Romans, escapes a fine after reporting the cartel to the CMA.

Nigel Lewis

estate agencies

Three estate agencies in Berkshire have been fined more than £600,000 after being investigated by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) for price fixing activity that began in 2008.

Estate agents Michael Hardy, Prospect, Richard Worth and Romans broke competition law by taking part in a price fixing cartel that was operated for seven years in the towns of Wokingham, Winnersh, Crowthorne, Bracknell and Warfield.

At the time the agents were the leading estate agencies in these property markets.

Each company was found to have exchanged confidential information on pricing and held meetings to make sure all members enforced and maintained the agreed minimum rates.

Although Romans was found guilty along with the other estate agences in June, it was the company that brought the cartel to the attention of the CMA and, therefore, it will not have to pay a fine, leaving the remaining three agencies to foot the bill.

The individual fines for this trio have not been revealed, but Michael Hardy and Prospect are to pay a discounted fine to reflect the fact that they admitted to illegal behaviour and agreed to cooperate with the CMA.

“It is disappointing that we’ve found yet another case of estate agents breaking competition law,” says Michael Grenfell, the CMA’s Executive Director of Enforcement (left).

“We trust that the fines issued today will reinforce our message that we expect the sector to clean up its act and make sure customers are not being ripped off in this way.

“The industry needs to take note: this kind of behaviour will not be tolerated. If you break the law, you risk similar consequences.”

Read more about the CMA’s Stop Cartels campaign.

 

December 18, 2019

One comment

  1. So many regulators, but a confusion of who should be regulating what? Michael Grenfell EDE has rightly fined certain parties – though not all?

    And why do other regulatory bodies within the industry not take action? The CMA have done their bit, but, is that the extent of it? Shouldn’t others spring into action?

    Because for sure there is a strong sentiment to clamp down on this sort of behaviour. Having recently been in a room with Baron Best and other members of RoPA, who feel that only qualified, honest, property professionals should be allowed to trade. And that only new and thorough regulation of the sector will get rid of (and this is their quote) the ‘white sock brigade.’

    For me if people are honest then they will go about their work in an honest way, if they are not, then no amount of regulation will get rid of it. But, setting standards and guidelines is certainly not going to hinder the industry.

    The other thing that confuses me, is that when large brands get things wrong, as was recently the case with one of the largest corporate agents, who were fined by RICS, why were their branches are not closed down? and why was the CEO not personally held to account. Instead the ship sales happily along.

    This to me seems at odds with the senior guardians of the industry wanting to make the general public respect and admire estate agents. I wish Baron Best and his acolytes all the luck in the world to get the necessary consent through government in the next two years so more regulation comes in.

    But, will there also be a proper code of conduct for all agencies, whatever their size, and there will be no favouritism for people in the c-suite who should fall on their sword, when they fail to keep their company compliant.

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