Three estate agencies have been fined over £600,000 for illegal price fixing.
The Berkshire based estate agencies were found guilty of fixing the minimum commission rates they charged their customers for over seven years.
The Competition Markets Authority (CMA) has found that four estate agents, Michael Hardy, Prospect, Richard Worth and Romans, colluded in a price-fixing cartel between 2008 and 2015.
Minimum agreed commission rates ensured that buyers and sellers in Wokingham, Winnersh, Crowthorne, Bracknell and Warfield unfairly paid inflated prices for the completed transactions of their properties.
The CMA claimed the leading firms in the area also held regular meetings to make sure all members continued to maintain the agreed minimum rates.
Romans escaped fines because they acted as the whistleblower on the operation by alerting CMA to the illegal activity. Consequently, they have benefited from the CMA’s Leniency Programme which allows businesses guilty of participating in anti-competitive cartels immunity from fines if they come forward.
Furthermore, Michael Hardy’s and Prospect’s fines were discounted after they admitted illegal behaviour and agreed to cooperate with further investigations.
Michael Grenfell, Executive Director of Enforcement, said:
“It is disappointing we’ve found yet another case of estate agents breaking competition law.
“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.”
Will fines of this nature deter stakeholders in the property sector from acting dishonestly in the future?