Consumer watchdogs are warning against council tax rebanding companies as households start to receive their annual bills.
West Yorkshire Trading Standards has seen an increasing number of complaints in the last two years about such firms, which promise to reduce council tax in return for an up-front fee.
Chief officer Graham Hebblethwaite said: “If people are concerned about their council tax banding then they should contact the local authority or the valuation office.
“There is nothing to stop anyone from making a re-banding application, which you can do for free and you don’t have to use a company to help you do this.”
The issue hit the headlines earlier this year when former Calderdale businessman Jack Darrell Henry was ordered to pay more than £12,500 after admitting to misleading customers.
Trading Standards officers received a staggering 680 calls about his Huddersfield-based business Council Tax Review, now known as Reband UK Ltd.
Customers were falsely told their homes were in the wrong band, and were promised thousands of pounds’ worth of refunds for an up-front fee of up to £185.
Henry’s victims, many of them elderly, found he had submitted no paperwork on their behalf or his work was so poor it was rejected by the Valuation Office Agency, which sets council tax.
Often there had been no justification to challenge the banding.
Customers who signed up and then changed their minds, making perfectly legal cancellations, found their cheques were cashed and no refunds made.
Mr Hebblethwaite said: “West Yorkshire Trading Standards were inundated with complaints from dissatisfied customers of Council Tax Review alleging unfair business practices.
“Many had been promised thousands of pounds in council tax rebates which, along with requested refunds, never materialised.”
Henry was sentenced to nine months in prison, suspended for a year, and ordered to do 150 hours’ unpaid work.
Anyone with concerns can contact the new Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 08454 04 0506.