By Max Clarke

Businesses in England and Wales are being warned against unscrupulous agents offering to reduce company’s business rates bills.

After the 2005 rates revaluation of commercial properties as many as 126,000 businesses signed up with unregulated rating agents thinking they would obtain a rates refund.

“Rates are the highest outgoing for many businesses after rent,” said Nick Wright, Director of business rates consultancy, RatesRecovery. “The rates valuation and billing process can often be confusing and for many the prospect of pursuing an appeal is daunting.

With the 2011/12 rates bills recently being received by businesses ratepayers should be on their guard; it is expected that rogue agents will again be on the prowl. With no Government backed regulation in place ratepayers should ensure that they only use agents who are members of the RICS and abide by its code of practice.

"In the past many unregulated agents have taken advantage of this situation by making false promises to local businesses in return for an upfront fee. Many of the appeals made by these rates cowboys were without foundation and had little or no chance of success. Companies continue to be ripped off every day through a variety of telesales and door to door marketing by these people," continued Wright.

Ratepayers can also obtain a free, personalised, online report from which details if they may be overpaying business rates and provides an easy to understand guide as to the potential level of risk.