Class Action Targets Australian Banks over Late Fees

A class action over credit card late fees charged by financial institutions in Australia, reportedly has the potential to develop into the country’s biggest consumer lawsuit.

The action, claiming that the fees are excessive and do not represent the true cost to the bank, was filed by law firm Maurice Blackburn against Westpac, Citibank, St. George, BankSA and ANZ in the New South Wales Supreme Court.

The open class proceedings mean that “all customers who have ever been charged a late fee, not just those that signed up to the original class actions,” could benefit if the lawsuit is successful, the firm said.

“We’re talking about an enormous action,” said Maurice Blackburn’s class action practice head, Andrew Watson. “If people are a bit like myself and not as careful about paying off their credit card, then they will be in the action and stand to benefit.”

The firm plans to extend the action to cover American Express, the Commonwealth Bank, the National Australia Bank and BankWest. The lawsuit builds on the partial success of a previous case on bank fees against ANZ on behalf of 43,500 customers in the Federal Court of Australia in February.

The scale of late fees differs, with some banks charging up to A$20. The February heard that the average cost to the bank of a late payment was only 35 cents. The Federal Court found that ANZ’s late payment fees on credit cards were penalties and should be repaid. Claims on other charges, such as dishonour fees, were rejected by the judge.

The total claim for the class action was A$57m. That decision is under appeal, but Watson said he is confident in the strength of the new lawsuit.

“We think we have a very strong case and that this course of action provides the best safeguard for the rights of all those consumers affected by late fees,” he said.

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