Two company directors from Nottingham have been found guilty of fraudulent trading after a 10-day trial. The firm cold-called businesses all over the UK, including takeaway restaurants, nail bars, hair salons and other small businesses, offering to reduce their business rates. The firm charged customers either £399 or £499 for simply filling in application forms. On their website, they boasted that they were the leading specialist in business rates, something that they could not justify when asked in court.
The small businesses targeted were then pressed for payment, even though rate cuts had not been achieved by the company. They even threatened some clients with county court action for not paying the fees, stating that it would have a detrimental effect on their credit rating and make obtaining credit difficult for the next 6 years.
The local council works out your business rates by multiplying the rateable value of your property by a multiplier (also known as ‘poundage’). Your property’s rateable value is calculated by the government’s Valuation Office Agency (VOA) – it’s the amount the VOA values your property at for tax purposes. If a business wants to dispute the rates they are paying, they can do this themselves, or some may wish to use a legitimate company with experience to do this. However, there is no charge for challenging business rates through the Valuation Office Agency.
A café owner from London described how he was offered a guaranteed settlement with a minimum 20% reduction in business rates. The owner did not use the service but was chased for £548. “A letter felt very threatening, the person on the phone was always quite pushy”.
The case was bought by Trading Standards for Nottingham who, after receiving many complaints, investigated the company and found the illegal operation had netted a total of £224,000. After being found guilty, the two directors were remanded into custody to be sentenced at a later date.
Protect yourself from cold-callers.
A Cold Call is an unsolicited telephone call from a business seeking to attract new customers.
Cold Calling is not illegal, however there are restrictions on how and when a marketing cold-call should be made. The new GDPR regulations along with the ICO’s Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations tighten up these restrictions, and as of 25 May this year, any organisation involved in cold calling will have to abide by strict guidelines or face hefty fines. The only instance where you can be lawfully cold-called is if you have given consent before being contacted.
In addition, organisations cannot call numbers that are registered with the TPS. The TPS (Telephone Preference Service) is a free service. It is the official opt-out register on which you can record your preference not to receive unsolicited sales or marketing calls. It is forbidden for organisations to make telephone contact with anyone registered on the TPS database.
To register with the TPS follow this link:https://www.tpsonline.org.uk/tps/number_type.html
You can also log a complaint with the ICO here: https://ico.org.uk/make-a-complaint/nuisance-calls-and-messages/