16 DECEMBER 2018 • 6:08PM

Councils have been ­accused of stinging small businesses with “rip-off” property search fees as ­analysis shows some are charging seven times more than others. 

Wakefield Council charges just £44 for commercial or residential searches, which are carried out before a property is sold and provide information about planning consents and restrictions and local covenants. 

Businesses in Tonbridge and Malling, in Kent, are forced to hand over more than £350, twice the £170 charged for residential searches and well over double the average of £146. 

About one in four councils charge more for commercial searches and nine charge at least double, including worst offender Newcastle-under-Lyme, which charges businesses more than £200 extra.

The figures were ­compiled by SME4Labour, a group linked to the Labour Party that campaigns on small-business issues. 

Its chairman Ibrahim ­Dogus, a restaurateur, said: “If Wakefield is charging £44, why can other local authorities not follow suit? The information is readily available to councils and should not cost any more to provide.  

“Firms should be offered incentives to open new premises and bring employment to areas instead of being penalised by a punitive additional tax.” 

The fees include the LLC1 Official Certificate of Search, which includes information on listed buildings and planning permission, and the CON29 Enquiries of Local Authorities Form, which details building control regulations, tree preservation orders and road and rail schemes. 

Paul Northcott, Newcastle-under-Lyme’s cabinet member for planning, said: “Commercial searches take significantly longer to complete than residential ones because they are far more complex, need more research and involve many internal and external departments.”  

Tonbridge & Malling council declined to comment.