The number of rogue ratings surveyors is on the rise. This is not a new problem. For years, businesses have been prey to cowboy elements in the industry who claim they can achieve massive business rates reductions, demand fees upfront and then often disappear without trace.
But the Covid-19 pandemic has made the situation worse. Many office-based businesses, which did not receive the business rates holidays seen in other sectors and are struggling to pay their rates bills, have become more vulnerable to a cowboy element.
A particular spike was seen after Christmas, when businesses were led to believe that the government’s Valuation Office Agency had agreed to a 25% reduction on business rates for those mounting a material change of circumstance appeal. Rogue surveyors made promises they could obtain this relief. There is no such relief on offer.
Elsewhere, smaller businesses entitled to small business rates relief have been targeted by rogue agents to secure this relief despite the fact they would be entitled to receive it for free, purely by applying to their local authority.
The small business involved is tied into a long contract and charged an annual fee of up to 52% of the ‘saving’ for the length of the contract – in some cases up to 12 years – with the rogue rating agent pursuing them through the courts for payments.
The escalation of such activity led to a recent parliamentary debate for industry regulation to protect vulnerable businesses. Calls for BEIS or the Insolvency Service to step in have not yet been successful, which is why we at Colliers believe RICS should take this role. We call for a register of business rates experts, regulated by RICS, in the same way the FCA regulates financial advisers, with those that behave ‘inappropriately’ struck off.
RICS needs to take robust measures to highlight this issue and effectively show these cowboys for what they are. It needs to take leadership on a problem that has existed for many years.
John Webber is head of business rates at Colliers International