Piano shop at risk of closure over business rates dispute

Tom Walter, who runs The Piano House in Abbey Road

Tom Walter, who runs The Piano House in Abbey Road - Credit: Polly Hancock

A veteran piano seller says the future of his decades-old shop is under threat after he signed up with an “exploitative” service for business rates’ relief.  

Tom Walter, who runs The Piano House in Abbey Road – also known as Hampstead Pianos – has been issued with an outstanding claim of around £3,000 by RVA Surveyors.  

The company previously secured a 100% relief but Tom, 68, says when he signed the contract in 2018 the firm’s assurances of “expertise” were so inflated that he didn’t realise he could get the same exemption by instead writing a letter to the council.  

All business rates in the retail sector were cancelled in 2020/21 due to the coronavirus pandemic, but RVA’s yearly claims – 45% of what the business rate payment would have been plus VAT – still continue.

RVA said it achieved “two successful reductions” which generated “significant” historical and future savings.   

Crouch End resident Tom, who is also a carer for his 93-year-old father, has launched a fundraiser to help pay for his legal costs. 

“Losing the case would bust me,” he said. “That would be the end of me.” 

“It's the point of them being untruthful about the fact it's so easy to do,” he added.

"Frankly I'm not sure what to do and it's been very difficult"

"Frankly I'm not sure what to do and it's been very difficult" - Credit: Polly Hancock

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On the prospect of losing his 40-year trade, Tom said: “My business has been my life.  

“I’ve literally spent my whole life looking after pianos, selling pianos, teaching piano... everything to do with pianos in the local community.  

“I've probably put pianos in every road in Hampstead, Kilburn and St John's Wood.”

Tom Walter signed up with RVA in 2018 - but this year refused to pay for the service for the first time

Tom Walter signed up with RVA in 2018 - but this year refused to pay for the service for the first time - Credit: Polly Hancock

A spokesperson for RVA Surveyors said: “Our transparent service was clearly communicated to Mr Walter showing in detail the costs and financial benefits.  

“RVA’s service is designed to benefit the client first and operates on a no reduction no fee basis. Our commitment to our clients is to benefit their business by reducing their business rates liability which was achieved by RVA Surveyors for Hampstead Pianos.  

“Payment remains outstanding for this year’s savings that were created by RVA Surveyors for Hampstead Pianos and all our channels of communication remain open to Mr Walters.” 

RVA has been involved in a series of court cases where small businesses, which have signed up to its services, have accused it of exploitation.  

During a Parliamentary debate in May MP Kevin Hollinrake called on RVA to be shut down and for consumer protection laws to be extended to protect microbusinesses.

See Tom’s fundraiser at https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/hampstead-pianos-ltd-save-me-from-rva/

Mr Walter says his shop's future hangs in the balance

Mr Walter says his shop's future hangs in the balance - Credit: Polly Hancock