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As the deadline for retailers to appeal against business rates approaches, companies are urged to be wary of dodgy firms who may rip them off rather than help.
The Forum of Private Business (FPB) issued the warning after experiencing a surge in calls from members complaining about rogue operators.
The organisation believes the problem has come about as a result of the recent revaluation, which determines how much business will have to pay over the next five years. The March 31 deadline for retailers to appeal against overcharging in existing business rates is also fast approaching.
According to the FPB, many smaller firms are unhappy about the Valuation Office Agency's assessment of their rateable value, which comes into effect next month. This is especially because the revaluation was carried out in April 2008 - just before the credit crunch took its toll on property values and rents.
The situation has led to a surge in companies offering businesses' rateable value, with a view to appealing for a reduction.
While the FPB stresses that many of these companies are perfectly legitimate, there are some unscrupulous operators who charge substantial fees with little or no success in bringing firms' business rates down.
FPB senior member service representative Philip Moody said: "This is a problem that seems to come about every five years after the rates revaluations have been carried out. These cowboys spring up and start cold calling businesses offering to get them big reductions on their rates. However, in reality, it's often the case that any savings they make are minimal and are quickly dwarfed by the fees they charge."
The FPB's business rates adviser, Andrew Bacon of Leaseholders United commented: "It can be difficult to chck the accuracy of your rateable value if you don't know what you're looking for. But this also allows 'cowboy' rating advisers to take large upfront fees supported by plausible reasons for reduction or spurious claims of success."
Leasholders United publishes a list of 150 rating surveyors on its website with at least one in three success rate at appeal. Members of the FPB receive discounted access to Leasholders United's online services.
For more information, call the FPB on 0845 612 6266 or visit www.fpb.org org