The Competition and Markets Authority is stepping up its campaign to identify and prosecute companies behind cartels - and it’s offering £100,000 to agents to blow the whistle if they know illegal price-fixing is happening.
In a statement to businesses of all kinds, the CMA highlights the recent case of Somerset estate agencies which were fined over £370,000 for fixing minimum commission rates.
The CMA also secured the disqualification of two company directors because it says “local home owners had been denied a fair deal when selling their property.”
The reward is part of a campaign targeting specific industries including estate agents, property managers, and the construction, manufacturing, recruitment sectors.
Earlier this month the CMA revealed that the result of its latest probe into estate agencies’ possible infringement of the Competition Act would be released by or in February.
The CMA first made an announcement about a probe back in March; details are however, it is known that this latest investigation has been launched on the basis of information received following the decision of the CMA in a previous probe - the infamous Somerset cartel case.
Agencies found to have been involved in illegal cartels can be fined up to 10 per cent of their annual turnover while individuals can face up to five years in prison and directors can be disqualified from holding director positions for up to 15 years.
A statement from the CMA says: “These [penalties] can be reduced or eliminated altogether where a business or individual report their involvement in a cartel and co-operates fully with the CMA’s investigation. Witnesses who blow the whistle can receive a reward of up to £100,000.”
The statement comes as part of the CMA’s cartel awareness campaign aiming to educate businesses about which cartel behaviour, such as fixing prices or rigging contracts.
New research for the authority shows that out of some 1,000 companies surveyed only 57 per cent knew it was illegal to fix prices, nearly half didn’t know or thought it was legal to discuss prices with competing bidders when quoting for new work, while well over half did not know or thought that dividing up and sharing customers with rivals was legal.
“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” says Howard Cartlidge, senior director of cartels at the CMA.
“We know that the vast majority of businesses want to do the right thing, but pleading ignorance simply isn’t good enough. If you know of something illegal – do the right thing and tell us about it.”