Bogus phone calls warning

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TRADING standards officials are urging firms to be vigilant if they receive unsolicited telephone calls from a company which claims that it will lower business rates charges by having the rateable value of a property re-assessed.

The warning comes after Hartlepool Borough Council’s trading standards team received two complaints from local small businesses.

The company is approaching businesses with offers of help to represent them in the process of getting their business rates slashed.

The company typically explains that it will liaise with a valuation officer from the Valuation Office Agency (VOA).

A short time later a standard acknowledgement letter will be received by the business from the VOA stating that an application has been made to have the non domestic rates re-assessed. This is in no way a guarantee that the business rates for the property will be reduced, however the company will demand a fee of up to £500 for this.

Complaints suggest the company then becomes aggressive and starts adding late payment fees on to the amount owed. The amount can soon escalate.

One local business was ordered to pay £942 after a five-week period and threatened with court action and bailiffs.

The company appears to record all telephone conversations and is willing to play selective parts of such conversations to try to demonstrate that the business agreed to such a contract. It appears that the company uses deceptive wording and high pressure techniques to obtain approval from the business to act on its behalf. The fact that there is no guarantee that the rates will decrease is not explained.

Neil Harrison, Hartlepool Borough Council’s trading standards officer, said: “A large number of complaints have been received nationally about this firm which operates in a very dubious way.

“Misleading telephone calls and intimidation are used to convince small businesses to take up the offer to have their business rates assessed. Unfortunately there is no guarantee whatsoever that the rates will decrease. This is not typically explained to the business.”

Any businesses affected by the scam are urged to contact Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud and internet crime reporting centre, on 0300 1232040.