Five Australian banks face class actions on fees

westpac logo Should the class actions succeed, all customers who have ever been charged late payment fees by some banks including Westpac and ANZ may benefit

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Australian legal firm Maurice Blackburn said on Tuesday it had filed open class actions against five banks over late credit card fees worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The legal proceedings could become one of Australia's biggest ever class actions, including hundreds of thousands of customers.

The banks involved are ANZ, Westpac, St George, Citibank and BankSA.

When contacted, both ANZ and Westpac declined to comment on the matter.

Maurice Blackburn is a social justice law firm in Australia.

Should it succeed, the firm said that any customer of the banks involved, who has ever been charged late payment fees, will be able to ask for some compensation for those unfair charges.

Start Quote

What we're doing today opens the gates of justice to millions more Australians...”

End Quote Andrew Watson Head of Maurice Blackburn's class action practice

The open class proceedings are being filed by the firm in the New South Wales Supreme Court and are based on an earlier Federal Court ruling against ANZ on late fees.

Maurice Blackburn said in a press statement that banks charged Australian households, not including businesses, AUD$652m ($604m; £360m) in so-called exception fees between June 2009 to July 2010, Australia's financial year.

Exception fees can be charged when a customer has insufficient funds available to cover a transaction, when credit card limits are exceeded, or when credit card payments are late.

Anz logo and pedestrian Maurice Blackburn's open class actions are based on an earlier Federal Court ruling against ANZ on late fees

The statute of limitations has been removed on the proceedings, which means an unlimited number of bank customers can become involved.

There will also be no limit on the number of years the case can take into account.

Gates of justice

The head of Maurice Blackburn's class action practice, Andrew Watson, said that while the earlier judgement against ANZ on late fees was under appeal, he still thought they had "a very strong case".

He also said that the course of action selected would provide "the best safeguard for the rights of consumers affected by late fees."

"What we're doing today opens the gates of justice to millions more Australians and means that previous estimates of the numbers of people affected and the compensation amounts owed will be dwarfed by the new state of play," he said.

"This action is a great example of the importance of having a robust and mature class actions regime in place, so that individuals have a genuine opportunity to remedy wrongs that happen on a large scale," he added.

Maurice Blackburn said it planned to extend the action to cover nine financial institutions in total.

Other banks and financial services targeted would include National Australia Bank, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, American Express and BankWest.

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