On 10 April 2018 the CMA announced that it had secured legally binding undertakings to disqualify two directors of Abbott and Frost Estate Agents Limited. This follows an investigation, which resulted in an infringement decision issued in May 2017, in which the CMA imposed fines totalling £370,000 on five Somerset estate agents, including Abbot and Frost, for secretly agreeing to fix their minimum commission rates at 1.5 per cent. A sixth agency was granted immunity under the CMA’s leniency programme.
The CMA’s investigation revealed that a number of company directors were either actively involved in the cartel, or failed to take action after becoming aware of its activities. The CMA secured commitments from Messrs David Baker and Julian Frost, who both served as Abbott and Frost directors during the time of the infringement, disqualifying them from acting as company directors or being involved in the management of any UK firm for three and a half and three years respectively. The CMA is continuing its investigation into whether it should seek the disqualification of directors in the other two companies that did not qualify for leniency.
This is the second time that disqualification undertakings have been secured in connection with a breach of competition law. The CMA first secured director disqualification undertakings for breach of antitrust rules in December 2016, when online poster supplier Trod was fined £160,000 for operating a cartel with competitor GB eye on the Amazon Marketplace (for more information, see our previous newsletter coverage on this topic). As in the current case, the CMA accepted a binding undertaking from director Mr Daniel Aston instead of applying to the court for a disqualification order, in accordance with its powers under the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986 (as amended by the Enterprise Act 2002).