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TODAY'S OTHER NEWS

Disgraced agency directors disqualified after price-fixing scandal

Two estate agency directors have been disqualified by the Competition and Markets Authority after taking part in an illegal price fixing cartel.    

Stephen Jones and Neil Mackenzie were directors at estate agents Richard Worth and Michael Hardy, respectively, from September 2008 to May 2015. 

A statement from the CMA this morning says that during this time, their firms took part in a cartel with two other local estate agents in which they conspired together to set minimum rates for commission on the sale of residential properties in parts of Berkshire.

The firms are described by the CMNA as being ‘the leading estate agents at that time” in the area.

Both men have now been disqualified for six and a half years for their roles in the cartel, meaning they cannot act as directors of any companies or be involved in the management of any company based in England, Scotland or Wales during this time.

The move follows a CMA probe into the cartel, which found that the four estate agents maintained the illegal activity for almost seven years. 

They exchanged confidential information on pricing and held meetings to make sure all members of the cartel enforced and maintained the agreed minimum rates.

“This meant that homeowners in the affected areas were denied the chance of securing the best possible deal when selling their property because they were unable to meaningfully shop around all their local estate agents for a better commission rate” says the CMA.

Shortly before Christmas the news broke of the CMA’s fines - totalling over £605,000 - imposed on three of the firms involved in the scandal. This followed a year-long investigation.

The CMA also revealed emails sent between people working at the four agencies, which were Michael Hardy, Prospect, Richard Worth and a branch of Romans; the discussions took place between September 2008 and May 2015 and were part of what the CMA claims were a “concerted effort” to maintain a minimum commission fee for sales in the Wokingham, Winnersh, Crowthorne, Bracknell and Warfield areas of Berkshire. 

Michael Grenfell, the CMA's executive director of enforcement, says of today's decision: “Selling your home can be a stressful and expensive experience, and one that shouldn’t be made harder by estate agents conspiring to cheat homeowners out of the best deal. Company directors have an important responsibility to make sure their firms don’t take part in this kind of anti-competitive behaviour. Today’s disqualifications should send a clear message to the sector – stay on the right side of the law or face the consequences.”

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