Posted: 17/09/2019

Business rates scammers preying on independents

Farm shops in particular have proved ripe for being ripped off by fake agents and fake business rates consultants

Growing confusion around the new business rates appeals system has become a breeding ground for fake consultants charging unsuspecting speciality food businesses for their help.

The Valuation Office Agency (VOA) has, for the first time, published a comprehensive list of the myriad business rate scams, to which speciality food retailers and other small businesses could fall victim. 

Davies & Co’s Barry Davies, a chartered surveyor who specialises in farm attractions, told FFD that victims typically paid scammers £350-£500 upfront with the promise that these rogue agents could appeal their rates only to hear nothing more.

The VOA has identified nine different scams. They include rogue agents, who claim they are from the VOA, requesting bank details on the premise of a refund, but stealing money instead. Others are asking shops to pay for an inspection.

Other scammers are incorrectly telling businesses that they must, by law, be represented by an agent to challenge their band. 

There is also a con revolving around supposedly submitting an appeal to the VOA on their behalf, backed up by forged acknowledgment notices.

John Webber, head of business rating at Colliers International said: “It’s disturbing to see the rise in scams, but in a market where businesses are finding it increasingly difficult to challenge their rating assessments themselves due to the unmitigated disaster of Check, Challenge, Appeal [the new online appeals system], some businesses are getting desperate and turning to agents for help.

“Indeed, CCA puts significant onus on rate payers to carry out a lot of upfront work which plays into the hands of the money opportunist cowboys.” 

Webber said that both the appeals system, and the structure of business rates themselves, would have to be reformed again to put a stop to malpractices. “The government really needs to get a grip on this now,” he said.

When contacted, the VOA referred FFD to Action Fraud and the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, but no response had been received at time of going to press.

Robert Copley, co-owner of Farmer Copleys in Pontefract, West Yorkshire, and chair of the Farm Retail Association, worked with Barry Davies to reduce his rates bill. 

He said this proved that the conventional sources of help are still the best solution.

This story appeared in the September issue of Fine Food Digest. You can read more on the digital edition here.

Read more of the latest news from Fine Food Digest here

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