CMA Continues its Push on Price Fixing

30th September 2020 Commercial Litigation

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has published a new campaign page and guide on unlawful cartels and price fixing. One of the three key examples they have used is the fines totalling £600,000levied on a group of Berkshire estate agents who were found to be price fixing, showing that they are continuing their focus on the property sector.

The guide contains a wide range of videos and quizzes to really make clear what is allowed and what is not. Agency businesses would be well advised to incorporate this into their staff training. They should also revise their internal whistle blowing policies to ensure that these practices are being identified and highlighted. It is worth noting that in the Berkshire case, one of the four agents involved was not fined at all as they internally identified the issue and reported it to the CMA. The CMA has a clearly set out and fully applies its scheme to provide leniency to individuals and businesses that whistle-blow and it is almost always better to come forward and confess in order to take advantage of this.

Key things that agents should avoid are:

  • discussions between businesses of what they charge, especially their future charging plans or discounting policies;
  • arrangements that allocate geographic areas or customers between different businesses;
  • discussions of marketing strategies or business plans;
  • discussions of internally sensitive data such as profit margins, sales performance and staff targets.

It is important to realise that such a discussion between just two businesses is unlawful, there is no requirement for a cartel to reach a certain size before it is unlawful. Collusion is unlawful no matter what the size. By the same token, the fact that the businesses are small is of no relevance, unlawful collusion can happen anywhere in the market.

JMW can provide advice on all of these areas and professional and confidential assistance for agents who fear that they may have inadvertently broken the law.

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David Smith is a Partner located in Londonin our Commercial Litigation department

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