March 5 2010.

Small businesses are being urged to be wary of 'cowboy' rating surveyors attempting to profiteer from the recent rates revaluation.

The Forum of Private Business (FPB) made the warning after experiencing a surge in calls from members complaining about rogue operators.

The FPB believes the problem has come about due to the recent rates revaluation, which decided how much businesses will have to pay in rates over the next five years.

Many smaller firms are unhappy about the Valuation Office Agency's assessment of their rateable value, which takes effect next month. This is especially the case as the assessments were carried out in April 2008 - just before property values and rents dropped sharply due to the credit crunch.

This situation has led to a rise in companies offering to reassess businesses' rateable value, with a view to appealing for a reduction.

Many of these companies are perfectly legitimate ones who offer a worthwhile service. However, the non-profit FPB believes some are unscrupulous operators who charge substantial fees with little or no success in bringing their business rates down.

FPB senior member services representative Philip Moody, who has been with the organisation for several decades, 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 advisor, chartered surveyor Andrew Bacon of LeaseholdersUnited, added that unscrupulous rating advisors often took advantage of small business' lack of knowledge of the business rates appeals process.

He said: "It can be difficult to check the accuracy of your ratable value if you don't know what you're looking for. But this also allows 'cowboy' rating advisors to take large upfront fees supported by plausible reasons for reduction or spurious claims of success.

"To help combat this we publish a list of rating surveyors with at least a one in three success rate at appeal. If you are approached by someone not on the list is wary of paying an upfront fee and read their contract wording very closely for hidden charges."

LeaseholdersUnited's list of 150 recommended rating surveyors is available to view for free on its website. The surveyors all achieve a reduction in business rates for at least one in three clients - this is the average success rate across the industry.

Membership of the FPB automatically includes discounted access to LeaseholdersUnited's online services, which provide a cost-effective alternative to professional visitations.

Experts from LeaseholdersUnited can also help small businesses with many other aspects of property costs, such as rent, service charges and claiming for Small Business Rate Relief.

For more information, call the FPB on 0845 612 6266 or go to