A Northampton-based estate agency that was hit by a £169,000 fine from the Office of Fair Trading has won an appeal against the excessive size of the penalty.
Jackson Grundy was fined two years ago for a series of minor administration errors identified during a visit to one of the company’s 11 offices in the county in June 2012. The fine was issued on the day that the OFT ceased to exist and its powers were transferred to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. It was the largest fine ever issued to an estate agency.
At the time, the fine was widely criticised by the then MP for Northampton South Brian Binley and the former leader of the borough council, Councillor David Mackintosh.
Jackson Grundy appealed the decision and, following a hearing in the High Court last month, the fine was reduced to just £5,000 and the firm was allowed to make an application for costs.
The report says the penalty was “seriously disproportionate”.
“We consider that the initial calculation of the penalty for failings that were more trivial than substantive (largely being related to record keeping and documentation) was wholly disproportionate and unjust,” it said.
“On the calculation of the penalty, we do first criticise the OFT for having made just the one visit, for not having spoken to a single office manager, and for being ready to impose a highly significant fine on the basis of inadequate information.
“We conclude by saying that we consider that the Appellant [David Jackson, managing director of Jackson Grundy] has suffered a very considerable injustice in this case.
“The worry that Mr. Jackson will have suffered as a result of the imposition of the excessive penalty, the embarrassment that he may have felt viz a viz his fellow directors and office managers, as the person in the business principally responsible for attending to the appellant’s money laundering responsibilities, and the resultant freezing or reductions of remuneration that all have suffered will all have imposed a heavy burden on Mr. Jackson. We greatly regret this,” the report added.
Mr Jackson strongly objected to the size of the fine and the actions of the OFT in publishing details of the case before the appeal had been heard.
In a statement issued on Monday, he said: ““My fellow directors and I are delighted with this decision by Judge Nowlan at the public tribunal, and that our appeal against the ‘excessive penalty’ has been ‘allowed’.
“Over the past two years, the stress, worry and abiding sense of injustice have weighed extremely heavily on me personally, and on many, if not all members of our staff.
“The judgement is now of public record and can be assessed by whomever may choose to do so, however for us, such pertinent statements included within as ‘the penalty was wholly disproportionate and unjust’ and the finding that we have ‘suffered a very considerable injustice’ are clear statements in support of our appeal and explicit criticisms of both the OFT and HMRC in this case.
“Having now quashed any question marks over the integrity of either myself or my company, we now intend to continue to do what we have always excelled at, without distraction – endeavouring to offer our clients an unrivalled service whether selling, buying or renting a home in Northamptonshire.”