Council Tax Cashback shows the power of this site

Wow. What an incredible last week it has been due to the Council Tax Cashback system. The site has seen more traffic than ever before, more people have added themselves to the weekly email distribution list than ever before (in the last week 35,000 people started receiving the email, the site’s had over a million unique users, and it’s been the subject of newspaper front pages, and a prime time TV programme focusing on its results).

The inspiration came from a post on the forum

As such I wanted to explain the genesis of this. I think it’s both a triumph and an interesting case study for consumer activism. Last August, a Forum post (from memory by MoneySaver Maisie) was written about rebanding; it looked interesting so I included it as a quick note in the weekly email, and it proved very popular.

Then there was a detailed researched article

This spurred me to do detailed research into the 1991 banding situation, the more of which I looked at, the more farcical and error prone it turned out to be. The consequence of this was a dawning realisation of the sheer impact that this could have, so I then took a very serious look at how to reband, and tried to develop an easy system to allow people to do a quick check of whether they were in the correct band. Luckily, the wealth and access to free data on the internet means this is easily possible

Thus last October I published an article on how to check your banding to see if you’re in the correct band and appeal if not. This went out at the top of the weekly email (at that point it was going to around 800,000 people).

Next it seemed ripe for a TV documentary

Gradually after that, I started to get serious feedback on many people succeeding and getting payouts backdated to 1993 too. So then a month ago I proposed this as a programme to Mike Lewis (no relation), the editor of Tonight with Trevor (for whom I present episodes of on a regular basis). He liked it and I put a note in the email asking for case studies.

I was shocked by literally hundreds of people who’d succeeded, replying they would be happy to take part in the programme (likely to be just the tip of the iceberg as usually only a fraction of the people who did something respond). It’s more incredible when you consider the time periods involved; rebanding cases aren’t quick, and the time period since publication included the Christmas period.

The programme was a dream to film; Lesley, Tom and Rebecca are a very professional and fun team, and in many ways this was an easy and straightforward story to tell (even better for me as I tend to look at people with some form of money issue, all this was good news, so I was able to present without a frown on occasion).

Then we did the ‘council tax savings school’ as part of it. Seven people picked at random, who I showed how to check their banding. We had no clue if any of them would be remotely relevant to the story; it just seemed a better bit of telly than me explaining what to do than just sitting at a computer.

Yet the results were shocking; one looks a definite case for rebanding, one a possible, and one had neighbours who may be due a rebanding. While picked at random, seven is a tiny sample, but it shows the sheer breadth of the misbanding problems.

Which produced a wide scale national news story.

Then last Tuesday I put out a press release, embargo’d for the Thursday, knowing full well this was likely to be a big story. Yet it was even bigger than predicted; the front page of the Express and Metro and in the pages of almost every other national paper (rather than in the money pages ghetto) and spread throughout the web (take a look at the Google News search for some examples)

At this point the Valuation Office website, a core part of the system, crashed and it has been down ever since. On Friday the programme went out and the numbers of people trying this went ballistic. From Thursday to Sunday night, at a rough estimate 650,000 people have read through the system, even more than Bank Charge Reclaiming has throughout the whole of January. Stunning!

It proves the power behind this site and collectivist adversarial consumerism.

For me this proves the power and idea behind the site. If you forgive me de-personalising an analysis – it’s the combination of collective consumer power and mainstream, connective, detailed journalistic research at the front which allows a speedy, reactive, powerful campaigning impact. Thanks to all who contributed feedback and ideas from the beginning.

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