A new call has been issued this morning by the Competition and Markets Authority for estate agents to confess if their business has been involved in a price fixing cartel.
In a statement just out the watchdog says: “If you think your business has been involved in illegal activity, you should notify the CMA as soon as possible – you may benefit from lenient treatment by being the first to come forward to the CMA.
“We also recommend that you seek independent, legal advice.
“If you have information on other companies in your industry that may have been involved in an anti-competitive arrangement, report it to us.”
The CMA’s announcement this morning makes the call after expressing concern that there have been three cartel issues in the estate agency industry in recent years.
The latest was in December 2019 when four estate agents were found to have broken competition law by agreeing to fix and maintain a minimum level of commission fees to be charged for the sale of residential properties over a period of almost seven years.
The agents were fined a total of £605,519.
This morning’s statement from the CMA says: “Competition law exists to ensure businesses compete fairly and customers are protected from getting ripped off. Price fixing cartels are among the most serious kinds of anti-competitive behaviour as they cheat customers by forcing up prices and reducing quality and choice.”
And referring to the most recent case it says: ”By fixing minimum levels of commission rates, the estate agents denied local people selling their homes the chance of getting the best possible deal.”
The statement gives a link to details of the authority's anti-cartel programme and goes on to issue advice to agents, saying:
- Do not discuss what you or your competitors intend to charge;
- Just receiving or sharing sensitive commercial information is likely to be illegal;
- Make it very clear you will not participate in illegal arrangements or discussions about them and take active steps to distance yourself from the outset;
- All anti-competitive arrangements – written or verbal, formal or informal – are equally illegal, and the CMA has sophisticated means of tracking down evidence;
- There are no excuses for illegal anti-competitive activity - ignorance of the law is not one either;
- If two competitors participate in an anti-competitive arrangement, this is sufficient to make it illegal - it doesn’t matter if not all competitors in the market participate;
- If you are a small business competition law still applies to you.