ANZ customers take bank to court

Today sees the start of an historic class action case against ANZ in Melbourne’s Federal Court and it may just be the first of many.

Three and a half years ago, IMF made a call to all members of the Australian public who had been charged possibly excessive bank fees, to join a class action against the banks. Eight major banks face claims from 170,000 people that the fees they have been charging are excessive.  Following a high court ruling last year which paved the way for each of those eight banks to face charges, ANZ is first in the firing line, with 38,000 claiming refunds.

Maurice Blackburn is the firm of lawyers fighting the case and Andrew Watson, head of class actions at the firm, says that the fees are simply not an accurate reflection of costs incurred by the bank when customers have a missed payment, or are a little overdue on their account. “The fees range, but $25 to $35 is the sort of range for fees that are imposed, so you might be a dollar over on your account or a day late in your payment and the banks will slug you with a fee that’s out of all proportion to what it costs them for that minor transgression,” he said.

The case against ANZ is worth about $50 million, but in total, the 170,000 who have signed up for the class action hope to recoup $220 million in excessive fees.

Some banks have dropped their fees since the start of the class action, but if deemed still too high, they will be included in these cases.

Tim Hardman, one of the 38,000 to sign up to the class action against ANZ, is hoping to have $700 of fees returned. As an ANZ customer for six years, Mr Hardman tried to ensure his salary was credited to his account before bills were paid. However, due to the fact that ANZ processes withdrawals at the beginning of the day and deposits at the end he was sometimes overdrawn, if only for a couple of hours. Each time he went overdrawn, he would be charged a $30 fee. Mr Hardman said of joining the class action, “Thousands of people are standing up together to say: ‘Listen banks, this is just ridiculous’. Australians should be proud to say: ‘This is enough’.”

And it may not be just the banks in the firing line. Dr Wayne Courtney from the University of Sydney law faculty said other big companies were watching the class action closely. “I know at the big end of town, some of these large institutions [are] quite worried about the effect it has on the certainty of contracts,” he said.

Giving the example of a power company which charges $20 for an account which is paid late, he said these companies might now have to justify the fee. Where previously companies employed capable lawyers to word contracts in such a way as to take advantage of the protection of law in respect of charging large fees, class actions give ordinary consumers access to legal representation to challenge such contract clauses.


Opinion: Not taking it lying down

I can’t help but applaud the 170,000 people who have signed up to the class action against excessive bank fees. Too often we simply let things slide because they seem too difficult.

I am constantly ridiculed by my husband for getting annoyed at poor service, or what I see as unjust bureaucracy, and threatening to write a letter (or these days send an email), yet failing to see through my indignation. Life is busy and when the moment of annoyance passes, it seems easier just to leave things be. I suspect I am not alone and that many others do the same.

Recently, however, I have taken to signing petitions; a petition to the Chinese Government about the practice of cooking live animals and a petition to a large multination drug company about the Melbourne father who needed access to trial drugs for advanced melanoma. Sadly in the case of Melbourne father Nick Auden, a petition wasn’t enough and he lost his fight for life. I also have my doubts about whether the Chinese Government will act on the signatures of hundreds of thousands of animal lovers. 

So why do I do it? Perhaps it’s about small steps. Taking a few seconds to sign a petition is far simpler than actually writing my own email of complaint, but success of any given petition may spur me on to act on my own behalf. Also, those passionate enough to create such petitions on have done most of the hard work for me, so maybe laziness is at the core of my apparent inaction?

Each and every one of us will at some point in time have been the recipient of an unfair judgement at the hands of a large company or organisation. Some will have followed it through to the bitter end, not always to satisfactory outcome, while some will have fumed for five minutes and then let it go – that’s human nature.

But perhaps we should look at those who will today take on ANZ and be inspired to act. Write that letter, make the phone call or sign the petition – whatever it takes for your voice to be heard.

Do you think it’s time for large companies and organisations to take note of people power? Or do you think that we are generally weak when it comes to taking on Goliath?

Written by Debbie McTaggart