Since I put out a warning in the April 21 issue about business ratings cowboys, my phone has been on overtime. 

First up was Jess Parkin, who runs Johnny's Tobacconist in Newquay, who was cold-called on March 7 by a company trading from Bolton in Lancashire. They offered to 'send in an appeal' for no fee. (Well, normally it costs a postage stamp at least.) Then they wanted £400 plus VAT for doing so. Nice work if you can get it.

The company was very plausible and told Jess that they had been instructed by the council. They had not. And then they threatened court action. Jess has since been on to trading standards officers in both Cornwall and Lancashire and both have said that they are on the case. 

Two points here for anyone else in this position. If the terms and conditions contain 'weasel' wording through which they try to justify a hefty fee for no real work then you could - if it ever came to court - refer the judge to the Ratings Practitioners Code of Practice.

Second, if the demand is against you personally (as it is in this and most cases) rather than against your company, then you can have any hearing in your home town. I should think it highly unlikely that this company would travel from Bolton to Newquay only to get a ticking off by the judge.

Next up was a Birmingham retailer who was approached by a company that I am going to be very careful about. The reason is that this company, which cold-called him, trades out of Trafford in Manchester, home ground of the best-and-the-worst of all 'business rates consultants' once known as Strattons and as Oldfields. When this retailer first contacted me to ask whether the ratings consultant was okay, I sent him to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) as I hadn't heard of the company. RICS hadn't either, but said that two or three of the names at the bottom of the letter were members of RICS. 

The RICS recommends that 50% of the names at the bottom of the paperwork should be RICS members. In this case it was three at best out of about 30.

I have since been advised by genuine ratings specialist Ken Batty, who trades in Preston, that the names in this case are not employees - they are merely people who the consultancy may use from time to time. In other words, they factor out to others.

Now the good news. TSOs in Trafford are watching this company and have demanded undertakings from it that it will not act against the code of practice.

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