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Thousands of businesses have had letters from companies asking for payment for registration under the Data Protection Act. Such letters give the impression that they come from an official body and that you are legally obliged to register with that company immediately - at a cost of up to £100, plus VAT. While many businesses handling personal data must, by law, notify the Information Commissioner, they can do so directly for a fee of £35 per year. Often, small firms that process such data for limited purposes don't have to pay at all.
Businesses also need to beware of bogus health and safety organisations. Small firms have been sent letters requesting between £125 and £250 to become registered with a false enforcement agency that promises to run checks on their health and safety measures. All UK organisations are required, by law, to register with a health and safety enforcement agency - either the HSE or their local authority - but this service is free of charge. The Health & Safety Executive never sends out unwanted demands for money. It does offer a "Safety Starter Pack" for £30 and can advise on who you need to register with. Visit the Health and Safety Executive website or call the HSE information line: 08453 450055. Or, call your local Environmental Health Service for advice.
Another regular scam is based on business listings either in published directories, electronic directories (CD-Roms) or on websites. Beware of 'official-looking' invoices from trade directories asking for your fax, internet and e-mail details. These might appear to be simple requests inviting a free listing but watch out for small print commitments to pay hundreds of pounds for an entry. If you reply, it is then claimed that you have entered into a contract for an expensive, yet worthless, listing and that you have to pay. One example was a CD-Rom directory; free for the first issue but, in the small print, a commitment to pay £661 for three further issues. If some form of directory is actually published, there may be no criminal offence and a lawful contract will be place.
'Rate-reduction' firms are also targeting small firms. In exchange for large fees, businesses are led to believe they will get their business rates reduced on appeal. In fact, the fees for the service may be more than any saving. Rates may also be increased. Typical claims are:
None of these claims should be accepted without proof. Don't believe claims that are made before an investigation of your property has even been carried out. Make sure you get a written contract and check it carefully to find out how much you will have to pay and when.
Your local valuation officer can discuss the rateable value of your property and provide an appeal form for free; information is also available on the Valuation Office Agency website. The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors also operates a business rates helpline offering a free half hour consultation on business rates appeals: 0870 3331600.
This is another commonly targeted area. One common practice is the 'unfulfilled order'. The scam company supplies an order and, some months later, says it has made a mistake and there are some items still to be delivered. The unsuspecting business agrees to the offer of the remaining items and is also given some vouchers or another item to make up for the supposed mistake, but when the goods arrive they do not come with an invoice. A short while later an invoice for a huge amount arrives and the receiver, despite his protests, is told to pay.
All charity-related publishing houses have a responsibility to provide would-be donors and clients with a 'solicitation statement'. This must set out what proportion of their donation will be used for charitable purposes, and has to be given during the course of any, and each, representation made by the publisher. It is an offence to fail to give this solicitation statement.
Where a 'donation' of more than £50 is made as a result of a telephone call, the fund raiser must issue a notice explaining which institutions will benefit and how, as well as providing full details of the right to cancel (this is usually included on the invoice). The donor then has seven days to cancel, at which point the donation must be refunded.