Three price fixing cartels operated illegally by estate agents busted as public asked to report suspicions

Under the CMA’s Leniency Programme, Romans will not be fined as it blew the whistle on the illegal activity by bringing it to the CMA’s attention and fully cooperating with the investigation.

The Berkshire case was only the latest in a series of penalties levied on agents by the CMA.

Others include fining three members of the Three Counties Estate Agent Association £735,000 for breaking competition law in relation to letting and estate agent fees, and fining four estate agents in Somerset over £370,000 for colluding to set minimum commission rates.

The CMA has now urged anyone with suspicions that similar activities are taking place elsewhere to call their anti-cartel hotline on 020 3738 6888 or email cartelshotline@cma.gov.uk. 

Howard Cartlidge, Senior Director of Cartels at the CMA, said: “Businesses that fix prices or rig contracts are breaking the law and ripping people off.

“The victims are customers and other businesses, who are getting cheated out of a fair deal.

“If you know of something illegal – do the right thing and tell us about it.”

The total fines imposed take into account the behaviour of the companies involved. Michael Hardy’s and Prospect’s fines have been discounted to reflect the fact they admitted to illegal behaviour and agreed to cooperate with the CMA, thereby shortening the length of its investigation.

Michael Hardy’s managing director, Neal Mackenzie, insists the firm adopts “robust procedures” to prevent any repeat of the price fixing.

Peter Kavanagh, Romans’ chief executive, said: “A small number of staff acted in a manner totally contrary to the standards and values of the company.”

Uncompetitive behaviour described by the CMA as price fixing or acting as a cartel includes agreeing with a competitor what price you will charge your customers, agreements not to sell below a minimum price, or simply agreeing not to undercut a competitor.

It can also include agreeing with another business not to approach each other’s customers, agreeing with your competitors how much you’ll bid for a contract or share information about your bid, taking turns to win contracts and agreeing with other businesses not to bid or to withdrawing your bid.

Michael Grenfell, Executive Director of Enforcement at the CMA, said: “It is disappointing we’ve found yet another case of estate agents breaking competition law.

“We trust that the fines issued 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.”

Additional Reporting by Chloe Wright