A fine of £735,000 imposed on an association of estate and letting agents and a local newspaper publisher has been described as “comparatively small”.
The Competitions and Markets Authority in 2014 probed Waterfords (Estate Agents) Limited, Castles Property Services Limited and Hamptons International, which were members of the Three Counties Estate Agents Association.
The CMA claims these entered into an agreement which prevented members of the association from advertising their fees or discounts in the local newspaper, the Surrey & Hants Star Courier, published by Trinity Mirror Southern Limited.
The long-running case ended with a fine of £735,000 being imposed.
Now in its 2015-16 annual report, just published, the CMA says of this fine and another at around the same time in the pharmaceuticals sector: “Although the fines and the markets in question were comparatively small, we followed both cases up with extensive compliance work in the sectors concerned, to help other businesses across the UK avoid competition law risks.”
The annual report, available on the CMA website, also makes reference to the authority’s increasing use of open letters to operators in a business sector.
In April this year the CMA wrote an open letter to agents regarding their portal choices, with particular regard to how choices were made for agents’ ‘one other portal’ if they signed up to OnTheMarket.
“The move comes after the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) became aware that some estate agents may be making joint decisions to join the OnTheMarket portal and to remove their business from competing portals, rather than reaching these decisions independently of each other. The CMA has also contacted some agents that it suspects may have been directly involved in such activity” the authority stated at the time.
The CMA annual report does not comment on ongoing investigations in general, and there has been no indication given as to the progress of any specific investigation into this issue.
The annual report also makes reference to the authority’s work advising all online review sites to ensure greater transparency for consumers.
The CMA has opened investigations into some unspecified sites and companies; it has not said whether those under investigation include agency or property industry review sites.