Bank fees campaign picks up momentum

RICHARD MEADOWS
Last updated 16:03 19/06/2013

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More than 3000 disgruntled bank customers have joined a class action against the ANZ in the space of 24 hours, bringing the total number of claimants to 14,000 and climbing.

The country's largest bank was named yesterday as the first of several major lenders to be sued over "excessive" fees, with papers due to be filed in the High Court in Auckland on Tuesday.

The Fair Play on Fees campaign, launched in March, alleges that unfair default fees charged by banks have reaped them at least $1 billion over the last six years.

ANZ and former National Bank customers have been called on to register before 11pm on Monday if they want to be included.

The bank has vowed to vigorously defend the allegations, and is preparing its legal team ahead of a likely court date in the next few months.

Retail managing director Kerri Thompson said the ANZ had reviewed its exception fees several times, including giving a breakdown of costs to the Commerce Commission.

"We absolutely believe that we've got good quality data that backs up the justification for these fees," she said.

Thompson also said the claim that the bank's real cost was likely to be a few cents was "ludicrous".

Today Fair Play On Fees founder and lawyer Andrew Hooker challenged the bank to provide evidence.

"My clients aren't buying ANZ's excuse," he said.

"To say that an automated computer process costs $15 or $20 per transaction simply doesn't add up.

"If ANZ can show that their fees are proportionate to the cost then the case will be over, so they should come forward with that detail."

The fees in question include charges for unarranged overdrafts, rejected payments on deposit accounts, and late payment on credit cards or exceeding credit limits.

Hooker's argument is that under contract law, customers can only be charged a default fee that reflects the reasonable cost to the lender, with no element of punishment.

The campaign runs in parallel with a similar class action in Australia, where 11 of 12 lawsuits are on hold until the outcome of a test case, also against ANZ Bank.

"It's interesting to hear ANZ say over the past day that analysis has been done connecting the costs of default to the fees, because that's not what they said in Australia," Hooker said.

Hooker is working with Australian legal heavyweight Slater & Gordon and litigation funder Litigation Lending Services (NZ).

He has the other big Australian-owned banks - Westpac, ASB and BNZ - in his sights, and state-owned Kiwibank.

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While the lawsuits will operate on a "no win, no fee" basis, Litigation Lending Services will take a 25 per cent cut of any proceeds.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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