Residents are being warned to be cautious of companies claiming they can obtain a council tax refund on their behalf.
A number of residents in Bolton have reported receiving unsolicited calls from companies suggesting they are in the wrong council tax band and as a result can apply to the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) for a rebate.
The companies can charge around £150 for the service or 25 per cent of any refund. However, when applications are made directly to the VOA the service is completely free of charge.
While Bolton Council’s Trading Standards officers believe this sort of business is not illegal, they have found some to be misleading, which can be a criminal offence under consumer protection laws.
When one company contacted an elderly lady and made an appointment to see her, she believed she was dealing with someone from the council. She thought she was about to receive a cheque for over-payments when, in fact, she is exempt from paying council tax.
Another lady was advised she would have to employ a surveyor at a cost of £300 if she challenged the tax band herself, compared to just £150 if she sought the help of the company which had contacted her.
Bolton Council’s Executive Member for Regeneration, Housing and Skills, Councillor Ismail Ibrahim, said: “Residents should be very wary of companies that claim they can challenge their council tax banding and even obtain refunds of thousands of pounds on their behalf.
“If anyone thinks they are entitled to a refund they can ask the VOA to review their circumstances free of charge. Staff at the VOA are happy to advise residents on the process before they embark on an application.
“Any company offering this service should make it very clear that they are a private company and not affiliated to the council. They should also explain that there is no guarantee an application will be successful and that the service is free if an individual contacts the VOA themselves.”
Anyone who feels they have been misled by a company offering to obtain a reduction in council tax should report the matter to trading standards on 0845 404 0506.
The VOA can be contacted on 0845 602 1507 or via their website.