Four estate agents have been fined for breaking laws on commission charges - leaving their sellers thousands of pounds worse off.

Michael Hardy, Prospect and Richard Worth, together with a fourth company, Romans, have all been slapped with penalties for taking part in a price-fixing cartel, which began in September 2008 continued for seven years.

During this time, the four firms conspired illegally to set commission rates on homes for sale in the Berkshire area - acting in their own interests, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said.

This included residential properties in Wokingham, Winnersh, Crowthorne, Bracknell and Warfield - where they were the leading estate agents at the time.

As a result, local home-owners 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 agents for better commission rates.

People look at properties advertised in an estate agent's window
Their arrangement denied local residents the chance to shop around for the best possible commission rates when selling their homes

The estate agents implemented illegal arrangements through secret meetings where they discussed sensitive information, including commission rates.

One director wrote via email: "The company average fee is now around 1.8%. I am willing to do whatever it takes to get this sorted. We've had meetings over the last few weeks with other agents […] and there is at last a general consensus that something should be done."

All four met to discuss and disclose their fee levels until the arrangement gradually broke down in May 2015, the CMA said.

Competition laws exist to ensure businesses compete fairly and customers are protected from getting ripped off.

Price fixing cartels are among the most serious kinds of anti-competitive behaviour as they cheat customers by forcing up prices and reducing quality and choice.

By fixing minimum levels of commission rates, the estate agents denied local people selling their homes the chance of getting the best possible deal.

The agents were fined a total of £605,519.

Michael Grenfell, Executive Director of Enforcement, said: "It is disappointing we've found yet another case of estate agents breaking competition law.

"We trust that the fines issued today will reinforce our message that we expect the sector to clean up its act and make sure customers are not being ripped off in this way.

"The industry needs to take note: this kind of behaviour will not be tolerated. If you break the law, you risk similar consequences."

The total fines imposed take into account the behaviour