A Northampton MP has accused the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) of being “vindictive” after it announced a fine of almost £170,000 against an estate agency business, which has 11 premises in the county.
Conservative MP for Northampton South, Brian Binley, has said he was “absolutely stunned” the Government regulator had chosen to issue its largest-ever fine against Jackson Grundy Ltd.
The fine was announced in a press release issued by the OFT last Friday, the day it was closed and its powers, in respect of estate agents, were transferred to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.
The fine related to a series of minor administration errors the OFT identified following a visit to one of the Jackson Grundy sites in June 2012.
Despite the fact the Northampton company had voluntarily accepted the OFT on to their premises and made the recommended changes to their processes, the regulator decided to impose the £169,000 fine 18 months later.
Mr Binley said: “I am absolutely stunned that the Office of Fair Trading, in its final throes, has hit out in this manner. To fine a well-known established company £169,000 seems to me to be unnecessarily vindictive, not least when you note that the company openly welcomed help and advice from the OFT as to how they could improve their processes to ensure they did not fall foul of money laundering rules.
“Indeed it becomes even more vindictive when you note that the Office of Fair Trading itself had recognised that the company had reacted and changed its processes for the good. We should be supporting British businesses rather than trying to destroy them.”
Mr Binley said he would be writing to HMRC and raising the Jackson Grundy case with the treasury minister responsible.
Councillor David Mackintosh, leader of Northampton Borough Council, said he also thought the fine imposed by the Office of Fair Trading was “excessively harsh”.
Councillor Mackintosh said: “You need to question their motives in their last week of operation.
“I am pleased that Brian Binley is fighting this in Parliament and I will do whatever I can to support him in this campaign””
David Jackson, managing director of Jackson Grundy Ltd, said the company had appealed the decision and strongly objected to the OFT issuing a press release before the appeals process had been completed.
Mr Jackson said: “We are bewildered and saddened by the actions of the OFT and feel the decision was rushed due to their impending closure.
“The fine is grossly disproportionate in light of the minor administrative breaches identified”.
Jackson Grundy has been based in Northamptonshire for 20 years and employs more than 60 people.