New powers are needed to thwart cowboy ratings surveyors, says senior figure at Colliers

The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) should lobby the Government to obtain powers to thwart cowboy ratings surveyors who are conning business people out of thousands of pounds every year, according to a senior figure at Colliers, the professional services and investment management company.

John Webber Picture: Nick Cunard

John Webber, Head of Business Rates at Colliers, said some unscrupulous surveyors were behaving like criminals as they exploited businesses by placing them under pressure to sign unfair, long term contracts.

Colliers said an increasing number of businesses are being approached by rogue rating surveyors who promise to obtain a “marked reduction” in their business rates bills.

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Some businesses, unaware they are entitled to reliefs, are being targeted by the rogue agents to secure small business reliefs or Covid’ reliefs despite the fact the businesses would have received them for free, simply by writing to the local authority.

Mr Webber said problems with cowboy ratings surveyors have got worse over the last year.

He said: “Once the ratepayers have been conned by one of these rogues, they are in a worse position than they were before they started.

He added: “Around Christmas last year there was a lot of speculation in the media of the valuation office offering a 25 per cent reduction to businesses which have been affected by the pandemic.

“This potential change vanished in a puff of smoke but a lot of the cowboys latched on to this and falsely claimed they could help businesses claim this reduction.

“The fact that it’s difficult to understand how the business rates bills are arrived at plays straight into the hands of the cowboys. Most business owners don’t wake up every morning and worry about business rates.

“I started in the industry 34 years ago, and the cowboys were already operating then. The RICS does have a code of conduct and will act if members step out of line, but this only has an impact on firms which are fundamentally reputable.

“They have no control over these cowboys. The RICS should lobby the Government to have the same powers over surveyors as the FCA (Financial Conduct Authority) has over financial services firms and advisers.

“The RICS should tell the Government that it must be mandated to have that power,’’ Mr Webber said.

“Some of these cowboys are not just disreputable, they are criminals. They wouldn’t think twice about changing a piece of paper after a customer has signed it.

“The RICS should lobby Parliament to say, ‘We will take over responsibility for this.”

According to Colliers the number of incidents has grown during the lockdowns, when many office based business owners, who did not receive the business rates holidays seen in other sectors, struggled to pay their rates bills and became more vulnerable to the rogues.

Responding to Mr Webber’s comments, an RICS spokesperson said: “We work closely with the Government and other key stakeholders about regulatory matters in the public interest.

"Given our role in ensuring the highest standards in the market we advise consumers to use RICS members or regulated firms where employing business rates services, before agreeing any work.

“RICS rating surveyors are fully regulated against RICS standards, including the Rating Consultancy Code of Practice and our Rules of Conduct.

“The Code was written in partnership with key stakeholders in the business rates sector: the VOA, IRRV and RSA. We recognise the challenges faced in this market and work in partnership with others in the public interest.

“If any client has concerns about an RICS professional or firm, these can be raised directly through our website.”

Nanette Chaplais who has a deli café, Maison Chaplais, and a bistro café, Chaplais Kitchen said she had twice been the victim of rogue surveyors.

She said: “One very smartly dressed and professional looking gentleman persuaded my husband and I that he could recoup us thousands of pounds in overpaid rates, and in future on our rates bill. We paid him a fee of £900.”

He later contacted Ms Chaplais to tell her she was not entitled to a refund after all.

She said: “Surely we need a system where it’s easy for people like me to see who is reputable or not. How an earth can someone with a small business know how to separate the wheat from the chaff?”

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