Business rates has a bit of a grubby reputation because of the sharp practices and heavy-handed client management by certain ‘specialists’.
The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and Rating Surveyors Association have codes of practice that apply to its members which ensures that any chartered surveyors you employ act correctly and appropriately.
The problem is that anyone can set up as a business rates specialist and as they aren’t chartered surveyors, they aren’t regulated by the professional bodies, so don’t have to follow the rules. Enter the rating cowboy.
It’s easy to be flippant about this but we’ve noticed a huge growth in the marketing activities of these ‘experts’ in the run up to the new rating list being released on 1 April 2023. The level of increase in Rateable Value on some properties plays straight into their hands.
I’ve recently been talking to a company who paid in excess of £8,000 in an upfront fee. How can someone get stung like that I hear you say? It’s all very plausible – a phone call arranges a meeting with a salesman. The salesman turns up and tells the occupier that he thinks there’s something in it but that they would need to send a surveyor out. Only after this survey stage and confirmation that there are savings to be made would a fee be payable to cover the survey and start the appeal process. Again, very plausible.
But here’s where it starts getting grubby. The building in question is a workshop that’s been fitted out with labs. The VO are unaware of the labs so the building is de-facto considerably under assessed. Under no circumstances is it appropriate to raise an appeal. Despite this, the survey is undertaken and low and behold… it reveals that an appeal is appropriate and savings will follow in due course. £8,150 changes hands. I have since seen a copy of the survey – it consists of some notes on specification but no building measurements. So far we haven’t been able to establish if an appeal has actually been submitted and the cowboys have gone quiet. Off to a rodeo maybe?
We coincidentally received a call from the same business a few weeks later professing to be able to save us money at our own offices (they can’t) but I played along for a bit of sport. The sales pitch is indeed very convincing, scattered with half-truths and enough technical jargon to make it sound plausible.
I can absolutely understand how people are taken in but as in the case above, the potential for actual savings doesn’t exist but the survey fee makes it a very lucrative exercise for the ‘specialist’. This particular outfit turned over several million last year. I’ve reported them to Trading Standards but to be honest I have zero expectation that anything will come of it.
The lesson? Always check the credentials of any rating advisor. Make sure they are chartered surveyors who abide by the RICS and RSA rules and don’t pay survey fees.
If anyone has been caught out by such a scam, and it absolutely is a scam, then we’re happy to help try and recover the upfront fee paid.