Law firm Maurice Blackburn today launched class action proceedings on behalf of all customers and businesses charged a late fee by a bank.
The class action includes all customers who have ever been charged late payment fees by Westpac, St George, Citibank, BankSA and ANZ, whether or not they signed up to the original action.
Andrew Watson, the head of Maurice Blackburn’s class action practice, said the firm’s success early this year against the ANZ on late fees, has opened the door for millions of customers to recoup what is rightfully theirs.
“Whilst that judgment is under appeal, 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,” Watson said in a statement.
James Middleweek, from litigation funder Bentham IMF, which has bankrolled the litigation told SmartCompany SMEs are also included in the action.
Middleweek says the target is “exorbitant bank fees” and he has in his sights the $112 million the banks charged Australian businesses in financial year 2010.
“If the Court of Appeal were to find in our favour on dishonor fees and overlimit fees we would look to extend the class on those,” he says.
Middleweek says late fees are not as big an issue for businesses as honour and dishonour fees as late fees are only charged once a month because of the payment cycle.
“The particular offensive thing about honour and dishonour fees is banks can charge them on every transaction and so it is effectively a tax on small business,” he says.
Middleweek says the appeal is “very important for small business”.
Neil Slonim, of The Bank Doctor, says class action fees are becoming expensive for the banks.
“Class actions do provide an opportunity for an SME or individual to seek to redress any wrongs they think a bank may have inflicted on them given that they generally lack such power,” he says.