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Price-fixing cartel of Berkshire estate agents fined £600,000

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Three estate agents from Berkshire have been fined more than £600,000 for fixing the commissions they charged on residential sales.

The agencies, Michael Hardy, Prospect, and Richard Worth, together with a fourth company, Romans, formed a price-fixing cartel starting in September 2008.

The four conspired to fix the commissions charged on residential property sales in Wokingham, Winnersh, Crowthorne, Bracknell and Warfield for almost seven years. They exchanged confidential information about pricing and met to ensure the agreed minimum rates were enforced and maintained.

This resulted in lack of competition in the local market meaning that sellers were unable to shop around for the best deal.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) did not fine Romans, which alerted the regulator and cooperated with the investigation, under its leniency programme. The fines of Michael Hardy and Prospect were reduced to reflect their admission of guilt and agreement to cooperate, which shortened the length of the investigation.

The fines were not the first to be issued by CMA for price-fixing by estate agents. Four companies from Somerset were fined more than £370,000 in 2017, and some of their directors banned, for colluding on minimum commissions.

“It’s disappointing to find yet another case of estate agents breaking competition law,” said Michael Grenfell, executive director of enforcement at CMA.

“We trust that the fines issued today will reinforce our message that we expect the sector to clean up its act, and to make sure customers 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,” Grenfell said.

The CMA provisionally found that the group had broken the law back in June.

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