On 19 March 2015, the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) announced that an association of estate and lettings agents, three of its members and a newspaper publisher had admitted breaching competition law and agreed to pay fines totalling over £775,000.
The parties admitted that at various times between July 2005 and January 2014:
- three members of the trade association entered into an agreement which prevented members of the association (including themselves) from advertising their fees or discounts in the local newspaper;
- two of these members extended the scope of this arrangement, with the co-operation of the publisher of the local newspaper, to prevent any agents (whether members or non-members of the association) from advertising their fees or discounts in this newspaper; and
- the membership rules of the association prohibited the association’s members from advertising their fees or discounts in the newspaper.
This case is of interest for several reasons, including that it relates to a local market (the area in and around one town in the UK). In addition, it shows that, where infringements take place within the context of trade associations, both the members of the association and the association itself can be found to have breached the law. This can result in severe financial penalties for the members, even where the association itself has limited funds (the trade association in this case was fined only £90, reflecting its “very limited financial resources”).
Any company which is a member of a trade association anywhere in the EU needs to ensure that the association has a competition compliance programme in place and that the programme is actively enforced.