Estate agents fined £370k for illegal price-fixing cartel

Partner Mark Williams

Four estate agents have been fined a total of £370,084 for infringing competition law by taking part in a price-fixing cartel.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) found that the businesses – which are all based in Somerset – had colluded to set a minimum commission rate of 1.5 per cent for residential property sales, denying property vendors the chance of a better deal.

Four of the estate agents received discounted fines due to their admissions and cooperation with the CMA, and two received further reductions under the CMA’s leniency policy. A fifth firm was not fined as it was the first to confess its participation in the cartel. The CMA’s leniency policy offers reduced fines or immunity from prosecution to businesses that report cartel activity and help the CMA with its investigations.

The CMA is continuing to investigate a sixth estate agent, which has not agreed to settle.

Businesses that breach competition law can face serious financial and reputational consequences. Certain serious breaches of competition law may also put individuals at risk of criminal prosecution, which may attract an unlimited fine and/or a prison term of up to five years. The Competition Act 1998 and the Enterprise Act 2002 are the two principal sources of competition law in the UK.

What constitutes a breach of competition law?

UK competition law covers all types of arrangements between competitors designed to reduce competition between them, including:

  • Any understanding or agreement about price levels or increases.
  • Agreements about the outcome of a tender or pitch process (for example, agreeing who will bid or who will bid the best price).
  • Agreements to allocate particular customers or sales territories to certain businesses.
  • Sharing confidential or commercially sensitive information. For example, prices, margins, customer data or sales information.

Expert legal advice on competition law

For expert legal advice on competition law please contact Gaby Hardwicke Partner Mark Williams (pictured) by email or call him on 01323 435 900. To learn about Mark’s skills and experience please view his website profile.

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