A reminder this week that antitrust enforcement is not concerned only or even primarily with big companies and national or international markets.
The UK Competition and Markets Authority has fined an association of estate and letting agents in Hampshire and a newspaper publisher £775,000 for breaching the competition rules.
Three members of the association entered into an agreement which prevented all who were members of the association from advertising their fees and discounts in the local newspaper, the "Surrey & Hants Star Courier". Two additional estate agents extended the scope of the agreement, with the co-operation of the newspaper publisher, to prevent any agents (whether they were members of the association or not) from advertising their fees and discounts in the newspaper.
Even though there was no agreement on prices and discounts, the CMA investigation found that the agreements prohibiting advertising had the object of reducing the competitive pressure on estate and letting agents' fees in the local area. It also made it harder for newcomers to enter the market by advertising lower fees.
Once under investigation, the parties co-operated with the CMA and thereby secured a 10% penalty discount. The CMA's press release includes the following prompt:
The CMA has received complaints of potentially similar conduct concerning alliances of estate and lettings agents and local newspapers in other geographic locations across the UK. This may result in further investigations into similar restrictions, regardless of the size of company involved, particularly if they take no steps to remove such restrictions in light of the present investigation.
If you would like to discuss these issues, please do not hesitate to contact John Cassels at firstname.lastname@example.org
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