Bank fee fight widens to ASB, BNZ, Westpac

RICHARD MEADOWS
Last updated 10:08 11/02/2014

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All five of the country's major banks will be facing legal action from a class action group over "unfair" bank fees by the end of the month.

This morning the Fair Play on Fees campaign group announced it would file documents against ASB, BNZ and Westpac on February 28.

It has already commenced legal action against ANZ, which is the country's biggest bank, and state-owned Kiwibank.

More than 38,800 New Zealanders have signed up to the lawsuit so far, including 7300 Westpac customers, 5000 BNZ customers and 6000 ASB customers.

Any more customers of the three latest banks who want to join have until 11pm on February 27 to confirm a place.

The group's spokesman, Auckland-based lawyer Andrew Hooker, said its research suggested the penalty fees charged by the three banks were at a similar level to those of ANZ and Kiwibank.

"This launch means that the five banks with over 90 per cent of the retail banking market will all face a Fair Play on Fees case," he said.

The group's argument is that it is illegal for banks to punish customers for late or failed payments by charging any more than the actual costs incurred.

The representative action, which is understood to be the largest brought in New Zealand, requires a lead plaintiff for each lawsuit.

The lead plaintiff for the case against BNZ is Chris Beere, who has racked up more than $1400 of default fees over the past six years.

In a statement, Beere said he had a major health issue five years ago which meant he had to abruptly stop working.

"Unfortunately, the fees that I was incurring as a result of that situation kept piling up," he said.

The lead plaintiff for the ASB case is Alison Withers, while the lead plaintiffs for the Westpac case are Renee and Mike Hau.

The penalty fees at the heart of the dispute include for unarranged overdrafts, dishonour fees, over-limit fees and late-payment fees.

Last week, consumers fighting a similar battle in the Australian Federal Court won a partial victory against ANZ.

The court ruled the late payment fees ANZ charged on credit cards were illegal, and agreed they were "extravagant, exorbitant and unconscionable".

However, it also decided that honour fees, dishonour fees and non-payment fees, were legal.

Any New Zealand bank customers who still wish to join the action can do so at www.fairplayonfees.co.nz.

The no-fee action is being bankrolled by Litigation Lending Services (NZ), which will take a 25 per cent cut of any proceeds awarded.

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- Fairfax Media

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