TWO estate agent directors who had been conning homeowners with illegal price fixing schemes have been disqualified from their roles following an investigation.

Stephen Jones and Neil Mackenzie were directors at estate agents Richard Worth and Michael Hardy, respectively, from September 2008 to May 2015.

Three companies were also fined more than £600,000.

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During this time, their firms took part in a cartel with two other local estate agents, in which they conspired together to set minimum rates for commission on the sale of residential properties in Wokingham, Winnersh, Crowthorne, Bracknell and Warfield – where they were the leading estate agents at that time.

The CMA (Competition and Markets Authority) has secured the disqualification of the two directors, with both men banned for six and a half years for their roles in the cartel - meaning they cannot act as directors of any companies or be involved in the management of any company based in England, Scotland or Wales during this time.

The move follows a CMA investigation into the cartel, which found that the four estate agents maintained the illegal activity for almost seven years.
They exchanged confidential information on pricing and held meetings to make sure all members of the cartel enforced and maintained the agreed minimum rates.

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This meant that homeowners in the affected areas were denied the chance of securing the best possible deal when selling their property because they were unable to meaningfully shop around all their local estate agents for a better commission rate.

And, as a result, three of the four estate agents – including Richard Worth and Michael Hardy – were fined more than £600,000 for their illegal behaviour.

Michael Grenfell, executive director of Enforcement, said:  “Selling your home can be a stressful and expensive experience, and one that shouldn’t be made harder by estate agents conspiring to cheat homeowners out of the best deal.

“Company directors have an important responsibility to make sure their firms don’t take part in this kind of anti-competitive behaviour.

“The disqualifications should send a clear message to the sector – stay on the right side of the law or face the consequences.”

The two disqualifications, announced today (June 15), bring the total number of directors disqualified following a CMA investigation to 18.

As part of the Company Directors Disqualification Act, the CMA can seek the disqualification of any director where their company has broken competition law.

It is one of a number of tools the CMA can use to protect consumers from anti-competitive behaviour.