The 365 Ways Blog

Michael Norton is author of "365 Ways to Change the World", which provides an issue for each day of the year, interesting facts, inspiring case studies of people doing things to address the issue and ideas for action. Originally published in the UK, versions with local content have been published in Australia, Canada, India, South Africa and the USA. To find out more visit our website:

04 March 2007

Consumers fight back

UK banks made profits in 2006 at record levels.
• HSBC: £12 billion
• Royal Bank of Scotland: £9.3 billion
• Barclays: £7 billion
• HBoS: £5.5 billion
• Lloyds TSB: £4.25 billion
That’s nearly £700 for every man, woman and child in the UK.

This high level of profit has brought into focus some of the ways in which the big banks have been overcharging their customers.

The law on what the banks are allowed to charge is clear: any charges that they levy on their customers must be proportional to the actual costs they incur. The simple question is… “Does it really cost £35 to send an automated letter when someone has gone 1p over the limit?”.

Once this question was posed, many people wrote to their bank requesting a list of the charges made during the past six years, asking for a full refund on the basis that they were overcharged (of course plus interest added to this). They threatened to go court using the small claims procedure. In most cases, the banks paid out; one person received as much as £17,500. There’s no guarantee of getting anything back, but so far the majority of people with a legitimate case have been able to do so. This has been one of the campaigns promoted by MoneySavingExpert, which has even provided a sample letter to use when requesting a refund.

“Companies try to screw us for profits. MoneySavingExpert shows you how to screw them back.” Martin Lewis, the Money Saving Expert has made it his mission to ensure that customers take action when there is a financial rip-off and that they have sufficient information to get the best deal on a wide range of services.

Martin is a 34-year-old journalist. He has had his own ITV1 series “Make Me Rich”, and his book “Money Diet” was a bestseller. Martin created the website in February 2003 with these key principles – “that it should be free, ad-free, independent and unbiased”. It has grown to become the UK's biggest money site, covering credit cards, shopping, phones, utilities, savings and investments. Loans and banking, insurance, travel and transport, mortgages and homes.

"I’d been working as ‘the Money Saving Expert’ since June 2000 and was already lucky enough to have a newspaper column and regular slots on different TV and radio programmes. During the course of my research, I began to send tips to my friends as and when I spotted a good deal during my research. Jokingly I called it 'Martin's Money Tips'."

"After a couple of months, I was at a party and people I’d not met kept thanking me for the e-mails. It turned out my friends were forwarding it to their friends, so to make it easier, I set up an e-mail list built around a basic homepage."

"The e-mail took off with 1,000 recipients, so I decided the site had potential to help me promote my journalism work, and I paid a web designer in Uzbekistan £100 to design a proper site. This was launched on 20 February 2003, which for me is when it really started."

"Frankly the growth of the site after that astounds me. It luckily coincided with more high profile broadcast work, which helped build my reputation and thus bring people to the site. And vice versa, the site’s growth also helped bolster my reputation, bringing more TV work."

"Now, only a few years later (as at 27 Feb '07) there are nearly 6 million visits a month to the site from 2.48 million people in the UK and over 1,000,000 people who have added themselves to the distribution list to receive the weekly e-mail."

"Writing and running the site now takes most of my week, and I’m more than ably assisted these days by a team. I’m staggered by how it all happened, but very grateful, and hope the site will go from strength to strength, continuing to be a true force to be reckoned with by companies, and a place consumers can call home!"

“I deliberately retain 100% ownership. This way regardless of scale it can retain its non-profit-driven ethical stance."

The site is free to use, but generates money from traffic generated from the site to other sites A part of the revenue generated goes to charities selected by the site’s users and a part to the site’s own charitable fund.

Take a tour of, play the money saving game, sign up for the newsletter, and do one thing to get yourself a better deal.


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