I am indebted to Preston-based chartered surveyor and ratings consultant Ken Batty for the following warning: "What all your readers must be clearly aware of is that, on the 2005 Rating List for England and Wales, only one proposal against a compiled list entry will, under current legislation, ever be allowed."

This means that if you appoint some cold-calling cowboy and they don't get you a reduction in your rates (and they won't because they are only in it to rip you off, not to do any work on your behalf) then you will not be allowed to appoint a specialist to rectify the situation because of this 'one appeal per list' rule.

Further bad news is that it is getting more and more difficult to obtain reductions unless you use a proper specialist. And, says Ken, a general practice surveyor won't really cut it either, anymore. He reports: "Only those dealing with ratings day in, day out, and with a proven track record of success, are likely to achieve any meaningful reduction on this particular list."

His advice is simple: never give the business to cold-callers and get a no win, no fee deal in writing. Don't sign up for one of those no-fee-until-your-appeal-is-accepted deals as they are rubbish - all appeals are accepted and then decided for or against. I have known Ken for well over 10 years and know him to be quite crusading about driving these rustlers out of town.

Ironically, Ken was also recently targeted himself by a firm of surveyors using telesales workers to advise clients that he was no longer in business. This surprises neither of us as we both remember some of the ploys used by Oldfields/Strattons in their heydays of rates rip-offs, when one company would follow up the other by calling retailers they had previously conned to offer their commiseration and their services in their new guise. Never mind insult, this was injury on top of injury.

If you have been approached lately by a ratings 'consultant', let me know. Ken has offered to help if he can.

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