A price-fixing cartel of four Burnham-On-Sea estate agents have been fined more than £370,000 by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) this week.
Greenslade Taylor Hunt, Abbott and Frost Limited, Gary Berryman Estate Agents and its parent company Warne Investments Limited, and West Coast Property Services, have been fined a total of £372,233 for colluding to set a minimum commission rate of 1.5 per cent for properties in the Burnham-On-Sea area.
The four companies have all admitted to price fixing.
The fines were handed out on Thursday (March 2nd) by the CMA, as the firms denied local home-owners a better deal by setting the fixed commission rates for residential properties.
GTH was fined a total of £186,054, including a 20 per cent reduction for settlement, and a reduction of 35 per cent for leniency.
Gary Berryman Estate Agents, and its parent company Warne Investments Limited, have been fined a total of £97,807, including a reduction of 20 per cent for settlement.
West Coast Property Services UK has been fined £58,273, including a 20 per cent reduction for settlement and 35 per cent for leniency.
Abbott and Frost Limited was fined £30,099, which includes a reduction of 20 per cent for settlement and for agreeing to follow a new streamlined procedure for the remainder of the case.
The CMA’s Stephen Blake, a senior director for cartel enforcement at the organisation, said in a statement: “Moving home is expensive and this shouldn’t be made worse by estate agents conspiring to deny their customers the best possible deal, by agreeing not to compete on fees.”
“Price-fixing cheats customers, and we are committed to tackling it regardless of the size of the businesses involved.”
“We have taken action against estate agents before, and will do so again if firms break the law.”
The businesses involved agreed to settle with the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) after a year-long investigation.
Another company, Annagram Estate Agents Limited (trading as ‘C J Hole’), will not be fined – as long as it continues to cooperate – as it was the first company to confess its participation in the cartel.
This is the second case brought by the CMA against estate agents in recent years. The previous case saw members of the Three Counties Estate Agent Association fined £735,000 in 2015, and resulted in the CMA launching a campaign designed to improve understanding of the law within that sector, and so compliance with it.
It was this campaign that resulted in the current case being brought to the CMA’s attention, and we encourage others with evidence of competition law being broken to report their concerns to the CMA.
The CMA is also continuing to investigate the conduct of a further estate agent, Saxons PS Limited, which is not a party to today’s settlement. No assumption should be made that Saxons PS Limited has infringed the law.
Penalties under the Competition Act become payable only after the CMA has issued a formal infringement decision setting out the CMA’s findings in full, together with the basis for the calculation of the fines.
The next procedural step is the issue of a formal statement of objections, which is expected shortly.
Burnham-On-Sea.com has invited the estate agents to comment on the news.
West Coast Property said: “West Coast co-operated with the CMA in relation to this investigation to a satisfactory resolution.”
A Berryman’s spokesman said: “Berryman’s has fully co-operated with the CMA in respect of its investigation relating to matters three years ago.The issues raised occurred entirely outside of Company policy. The Company conducts its operations in full compliance with the Competition law rules that apply in the UK and the EU.”