Property sales and lettings investigation
The CMA investigated an infringement of Chapter I of the Competition Act 1998 involving the advertising of estate and lettings agents’ fee rates in a local newspaper.
First published: December 2013
|19 June 2015||Publication of non-confidential version of infringement decision|
|3 June 2015||Follow-up compliance work published|
|8 May 2015||Final infringement decision issued|
|March 2015||Parties offer to settle investigation with CMA|
|February/March 2015||CMA and parties explore possibility of settlement|
|10 December 2014||Statement of objections issued to certain parties|
|1 May 2014||Decision on next phase of the investigation in light of evidence received to date|
|April 2014||State of play meetings with the parties under investigation|
|January to March 2014||OFT analysis and review of parties’ responses to information requests, further information requests issued (if necessary), interview of key witnesses|
|December to January 2014||Initial investigation: information gathering, including issuance of formal or informal information requests and parties’ responses|
|December 2013||Investigation opened|
- Further detail of the CMA’s procedures in Competition Act cases is available in the procedural guidance.
The following changes have been made to the case timetable since it was first published in December 2013:
|Date of change||Reason for change||Change made to timetable|
|27 November 2014||Additional time needed for CMA analysis and review of evidence held on the CMA’s file||Estimated timing of decision on investigation outcome (issue of statement of objections; case closure) put back by 10 days|
|19 March 2015||Shortened timetable to outcome expected owing to settlement||Estimated timing of investigation outcome brought forward to May|
CMA notes a recent Court of Justice judgment
29 October 2015: Two recent cases highlight that parties can break competition law even when they are not active in the market where the anti-competitive arrangement is taking place:
The CMA’s recent infringement decision in this property sales and lettings investigation found, amongst other things, that a newspaper publisher had, under pressure, become a party to an agreement between estate and lettings agents to prevent agents from advertising their fees or discounts in their local newspaper.
Last week, the Court of Justice confirmed in its judgment in AC Treuhand that a consultancy firm had participated in a cartel between producers of heat stabilisers as a facilitator that organised and participated in meetings, collecting and supplying data on sales and acting as moderator where differences arose between the producers.
Firms that are approached to facilitate or give effect to anti-competitive arrangements should assess whether they are complying with competition law. If you suspect a competitor, supplier, customer or any other business is infringing competition law, use the CMA’s notification form to report any issues related to anti-competitive practices.
Businesses and individuals that come forward to report their own involvement in anti-competitive behaviour may have their financial penalty reduced or avoid a penalty altogether. See the CMA’s leniency page for more information.
Property Ombudsman’s guidance to estate agents
22 October 2015: Following the CMA’s decision and conversations with the CMA’s compliance team, the Ombudsman has issued guidance to estate agents to help them comply with competition law. The guidance was published on 13 October 2015.
The Ombudsman has also recently revised its code of practice for estate and lettings agents to include more direct references to competition law.
Non-confidential infringement decision
19 June 2015: The CMA has published a non-confidential version of the decision in this case.
- Non-confidential decision (PDF, 3Mb) (19.6.15)
Follow-up compliance work
3 June 2015: The CMA has sent warning letters to a number of estate and lettings agents that it has reasonable grounds for suspecting have been involved in anti-competitive agreements to restrict the advertising of fees.
In order to help businesses avoid competition law risks, the CMA has also published open letters to companies in the property and newspaper industries and a case study to raise awareness that this type of activity is likely to be illegal and that businesses may face significant fines if they engage in it.
The CMA is also working with a number of industry bodies, including the National Estate Agents Association and the Property Ombudsman, to help publicise the lessons to be learned from this case and encourage best practice.
- Press release: CMA warns estate and lettings agents not to break competition law (3.6.15)
8 May 2015: The CMA has issued a decision finding that an association of estate and lettings agents in Hampshire, 3 of its members and a newspaper publisher infringed competition law. The CMA also imposed penalties on the parties totalling over £735,000.
Waterfords (Estate Agents) Limited and Hamptons Estates Limited (Hamptons International) and its parent companies Countrywide plc and Countrywide Group plc have now decided to introduce company-wide competition law compliance programmes, which include commitment by senior management to, and accountability for, future competition law compliance. In doing so they have taken certain steps to identify and assess potential competition law risks, sought to mitigate the risks becoming reality and committed to regularly review the effectiveness of the programmes. The CMA has treated this as a mitigating factor, meriting a 5% discount to their penalties before the application of the settlement discount.
- Press release: CMA completes probe into advertising of estate agents’ fees (8.5.15)
19 March 2015: The CMA announced that the parties have admitted breaching competition law in relation to estate and lettings agency services in Hampshire. They agreed to pay individual fines which are collectively in excess of £775,000.
The penalties included a settlement discount of 10% to reflect the resource savings to the CMA resulting from the streamlined administrative procedure following settlement, as well as the parties’ admissions and ongoing co-operation as part of settlement.
- Press release: Companies fined over £775,000 in CMA investigation into advertising of agents’ fees (19.3.15)
Statement of objections
On 10 December 2014, the CMA issued a statement of objections to the following companies:
- Castles Property Services Limited
- Hamptons Estates Limited (Hamptons International), together with its parent companies Countrywide plc and Countrywide Group plc
- Three Counties Estate Agents Limited
- Trinity Mirror Southern Limited (Trinity Mirror Southern), together with its parent company Trinity Mirror plc
- Waterfords (Estate Agents) Limited
- The investigation initially encompassed all current members of Three Counties Estate Agents Association. However, the CMA has decided to close the investigation in relation to all parties, except those listed above, on the grounds of administrative priority only.
- Changes to the timing of original entries in the case timetable will be made where the estimated timing in the original timetable changes.
Assistant project director
Suzanne Cater (020 3738 6801, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Simon Nichols (020 3738 6368, email@example.com)
Senior responsible officer
Ann Pope (020 3738 6786, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Please contact one of the individuals above if you have any questions about this investigation.