“A group of conmen” “exploiting businesses to sign unfair contracts”. This is how Kevin Hollinrake MP, the Member for Thirsk and Malton described rogue rating surveyors in a Parliamentary debate today focusing on the significant escalation in the number of cases of “cowboy” rating surveyors targeting struggling businesses looking to reduce bills during the pandemic.
Mr Hollinrake named and shamed rogue agents who he claimed are “effectively conning” businesses, including those in the retail, hospitality and leisure industries into signing long term contracts, which are not in their interests , for reliefs they would have receive anyway and then pursuing them through the courts for payments.
The Westminster debate on the “Regulation of business rates reduction services” today called for industry regulation to protect vulnerable businesses who are suffering financial distress, in part because of high business rates, from falling victim to such rogue rating surveyors. Mr Hollinrake has called for the Insolvency Service to step in, but so far this body has not agreed that it is their role to regulate. According to the rating team at Colliers, it should be the RICS, The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors that urgently needs to step in and regulate the ratings industry.
According to Colliers, and borne out by the debate today, an increasing number of businesses, including Colliers clients, are being approached by rogue rating surveyors promising to obtain a marked reduction in their business rates bills.
Some retail and hospitality businesses, unaware they are entitled to reliefs are being targeted by the rogue agents to secure Business Reliefs or “Covid” reliefs despite the fact the businesses are in sectors that would have received them for free – by purely writing to the local authorities. The business involved is then charged an annual fee of up to 52% of the “saving” for the length of the contract. In some cases, businesses have been tied in for 10 or 12 years.
“Businesses are getting desperate, “says John Webber, Head of Business Rates at Colliers. “Some who are entitled to reliefs were not aware of them and have therefore been targeted by rogue rating surveyors. Others, often ancillary businesses to the sector who are not receiving any support, but with no announcement by the Government of any forthcoming, have been clutching at straws. Rogue agents are able to take advantage of this distress. The current business rates system with its high multiplier and complex system of reliefs has created an unsustainable system, as has the widely criticised and calamitous system of Check Challenge Appeal introduced by the Government in 2017. Both have played into the hands of cowboys extracting money up front.”
“We believe the situation will only get worse after the end of June, when the 100% rates holiday comes to an end for businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure industries and Government support lessens. Businesses must beware of false promises.”
Webber continued, “We have long been campaigning for the rating industry to be properly regulated and we are supportive of Kevin Hollinrake MP raising this issue in Parliament. We believe there should be a register of appeals professionals, which should be regulated by the RICS, in the same way the FCA regulates financial advisors.”
He continued, “The lack of such a register gives a cowboy element the opportunity to gain credibility and persuade vulnerable businesses that it can save them serious funds. In the current crisis this situation is getting more out of hand. We call the RICS to take robust measures to effectively show these cowboys for what they are and to take some leadership on a problem which has existed for many years.”