How to avoid 'rogue' business rates agents

By Rebecca Weller

- Last updated on GMT

New system: the VOA has produced a checklist for operators to protect themselves against rogue business rates agents (Credit:Getty/PeopleImages)
New system: the VOA has produced a checklist for operators to protect themselves against rogue business rates agents (Credit:Getty/PeopleImages)

Related tags Business rates Finance Government

The Valuations Office Agency (VOA) has urged pub owners to “protect themselves” against “rogue” business rates agent.

In a bid to help operators to do this, the VOA has released a “checklist” detailing the best ways for businesses to safeguard their assets.

Firstly, the VOA urged pub owners to be “cautious” of any agent that guarantees to secure a big reduction in business rates​.

VOA chief valuer Alan Colston said: “The vast majority of agents are reputable and provide a good service.

“But there are a small minority promising big reductions in business rates, based on incorrect information.

“These rogue agents often charge substantial fees for providing poor quality submissions using our online Check and Challenge service, which is free to use.

Different options 

“We strongly advise businesses do their own research and explore different options before appointing an agent. Make sure you choose your own agent – don’t let an agent choose you.”

The VOA​ also recommended operators check an agent’s background before signing a contract and urged firms to only use agents that are a member of the Rating Surveyor’s Association (RSA), Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), or Institute of Revenues, Rating, Valuation (IRRV), as they are required to follow rating agent standards.

Additionally, the checklist also advised pub owners to check the length of a contract before signing to avoid long-term and costly agreements, read the small print on a contract and familiarise themselves with the VOA’s check service to manage their own property overviews.

IRRV chief executive Gary L Watson said: “Ratepayers should take extreme care when employing agents. It is easy for rogue agents across all media to create the impression that they are a reputable organisation.

“Business owners should make sure any agent belongs to a professional body, like IRRV, RICS or RSA. The agent will then be subject to that body’s rigorous disciplinary procedure.

“Furthermore, you can obtain advice on many issues from the VOA or your local council.

“Applications for relief should be made direct to your local council without having to engage with a rating agent."

New values 

This comes as the new rateable values for businesses came into effect in April 2023, with the new values used to calculate business rates bills issued by local councils, which can be challenged if believed to be incorrect by businesses themselves or appointed agents.

After the introduction of the new system, ratings experts Colliers also warned​ of an increase in “rogue” rating surveyors that has been “spamming companies to act with a sense of urgency” following the closure of the 2017 ratings list in March 2023.

Moreover, earlier this year license of the Sun Inn pub, Lancashire, William Eidsforth​, was left feeling “infuriated” and “vulnerable” after a company claiming to be able to help reduce the businesses rates​ did not, he claimed, carry out the work promised despite charging the operator more than £1,000.

A spokesperson from RICS said: “There are only three recognised bodies that hold their membership to account regarding the quality of their business rates advice and related ethics, RICS, IRRV and RSA, we urge ratepayers to only take business rates advice from a member of at least one of these bodies.

“When issuing terms of engagement, members of these bodies are required to refer to the joint RICS\IRRV\RSA Rating Consultancy Code of Practice.

“If in any doubt, prior to signing a contract we recommend checking membership with the appropriate body.”

VOA checklist in full:

  • Anyone can call themselves an agent, but this does not mean they are a member of a professional body. Check an agent’s background before signing a contract.
  • If an agent is a member of Rating Surveyor’s Association (RSA), Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), or Institute of Revenues, Rating, Valuation (IRRV), they must follow rating agent standards. This provides businesses with extra reassurance.
  • Check the length of a contract before signing. Rogue agents have been known to tie businesses into costly, long-term agreements.
  • Make sure you read the small print and fully understand the services you are paying for. Legitimate agents should not pressure you into signing a contract, or demand large sums of money up front.
  • Familiarise yourself with our Check service and create a Business Rates Valuation Account so you can manage your property and view correspondence between the VOA and your agent.
  • It is your responsibility to ensure the information your agent provides to the VOA is correct.

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