Bank fees case highlights need for better consumer protection

27 July 2016
The Government will have to act if consumers are to be protected from bank gouging over fees following today’s High Court judgment that went against customers in the bank fees class action, Maurice Blackburn Lawyers said today.

While the case was today unsuccessful in the High Court, National Head of Class Actions at Maurice Blackburn Andrew Watson said it was an important action to run on behalf of Australian consumers.

“Today’s High Court result means banking customers have no effective means to challenge bank fees which bear no relationship to their real costs,” Mr Watson said.

“The ball is now firmly in the Government’s court if consumers are to be provided with real protection from banks using fees to gouge customers.”

The case has been run by Maurice Blackburn Lawyers since 2010, backed by litigation funder IMF Bentham, and argued late payment fees of up to $35 that ANZ charged its credit card customers were illegal penalties and contrary to consumer protection legislation.

“This was a very worthy case, which we pursued hard for many years in seeking justice for consumers right around the country who have been forced to pay fees which in our view were unfair and excessive,” Mr Watson said.

“The class action sought to set an important precedent in calling for better standards when it comes to extra fees across the banking industry. We’re proud this case helped drive a higher standard for the Australian banking industry on behalf of consumers in relation to late fees.

“Many of the late payment fees charged have been reduced, but we are concerned in light of today’s decision that the banks now have a license to hike those fees back up.”

History of the bank fees class actions

  • 22 September 2010: First bank fees class action filed against ANZ
  • 5 December 2011: Justice Gordon in the Federal Court finds that late payment fees are capable of being penalties, but finds for ANZ on other fees
  • 16 December 2011: Class actions filed against Commonwealth, Westpac, NAB and Citibank
  • 22 December 2011: Maurice Blackburn appeals adverse findings in Justice Gordon's December judgment
  • 1 February 2012: Class action filed against Westpac subsidiaries St George and BankSA
  • 18 April 2012: Class action filed against BankWest
  • 14 August 2012: High Court hears appeal from Justice Gordon's judgment of 5 December 2011
  • 6 September 2012: High Court rules that bank fees can be considered penalties
  • 2-10 December 2013: Bank fees class action trial against ANZ runs in the Federal Court before Justice Michelle Gordon
  • 5 February 2014: Justice Gordon hands down judgment finding that late payment fees on credit cards are penalties and should be repaid, with no retrospective time limitation on claims. Justice Gordon finds for the ANZ on the other fees.
  • 18 - 19 August 2014: Hearing of appeal before Full Court of the Federal Court
  • Wednesday 8 April 2015: Appeal judgment delivered by the Full Court of the Federal Court. Finds in favour of ANZ on its appeals and against the plaintiff on its appeals.
  • 4 February 2016: Maurice Blackburn returns to High Court in a final bid to resolve the bank fees battle for ANZ customers once and for all.
  • Wednesday 27 July 2016: High Court hands down final determination in the case finding against banking customers.