Two fraudsters have been jailed for a total of seven years after a Trading Standards investigation revealed they had scammed thousands of businesses out of a total of £220,000.

Jamie Watkins, 29, and Callum Clay, 30, both of Moor Lane, Calverton, operated two businesses – Abbey Rowe Ltd and Hywood Consultants Ltd –  which would cold call small businesses all over the country such as local convenience stores, cafes, hairdressers and nail bars, offering to reduce their business rates.

A Nottingham City Trading Standards investigation discovered how they then completed an online application to the Valuation Office Agency, the Government department responsible for business rates, to have the business rates reduced. This is a service which is completely free, but these two companies charged either £399 or £499 for this. The companies should then have followed this up by submitting information on behalf of their clients to the Valuation Office Agency to evidence their request for a reduction in the business rates.

They never did this and as a result no individuals received any reduction in their businesses rates. Instead the companies put their energies into chasing the people they had cold called for payment of their fee. They stood to gain £1.6 million from their illegal practices.

The pair were found guilty of fraud at Nottingham Crown Court and were sentenced to four years in jail for Watkins and three years in jail for Clay. Both were barred from becoming company directors for seven years.

Portfolio Holder for Community Protection,  Cllr Toby Neal, said: “We are very pleased that these two fraudsters have received sentences to fit the crimes they committed.  They targeted  small businesses across the country, a large percentage of which had owners whose first language was not English.

“They guaranteed to reduce business rates, saving the owner up to 25% off their rates. They merely filled out an online application form, which any member of the public could do themselves, after which they did nothing. They charged each business owner either £399 or £499, and aggressively chased the owners for payment.  This activity netted them in the region of £220,000, with a potential gain of over £1.6 million.

“Our Trading Standards officers were commended by the Crown Court judge for carrying out an excellent investigation, which has resulted in these two criminals being jailed today.”

Head of Trading Standards Jane Bailey added: “This investigation has been extremely complex, with nearly 3,500 businesses involved.  It has taken nearly three years to finally get the case to court, and the convictions of the perpetrators. We’re very pleased with this outcome.”