Maurice Blackburn will today (22 September) file a class action against ANZ Bank for unlawful penalty fees - the first of 12 major banks to face mass legal action.
The class actions involve three lead applicants and at least 27,199 individuals and businesses holding about 40,000 personal and business accounts.
The bank penalty or "exception" fees imposed by ANZ to customers consist of honour and dishonour fees on bank accounts and over limit and late payment fees on credit cards.
In the Federal Court, Maurice Blackburn will allege that the exception fees charged by ANZ are illegal and that banks should only charge customers for their reasonable costs incurred, which may be as little as $1, rather than the $20 currently charged by ANZ for late credit card payments.
It is estimated that the total value of the ANZ class action to date is in excess of $50 million, with the average claim being around $1,500 per account holder and the range being from hundreds of dollars to over $35,000.
The total claim is for a refund of these unfair fees paid over the last six years (since 2004) plus interest. A claim has also been made for recovery of exception fees incurred prior to the normal six year limitation period.
"The first case represents an important milestone as we seek to fight for what's fair for ANZ customers," said Maurice Blackburn chairman Bernard Murphy.
"Our case against the ANZ is very strong and will allege that charging these exception fees is illegal and that the bank's conduct was unconscionable or unfair within the meaning of the ASIC, Trade Practices and Fair Trading Acts. We will argue that fees charged were unjust within the meaning of the Consumer Credit Code," he said.
The legal action is being funded on a "no-win no fee" basis by litigation funder IMF Australia and managed by its subsidiary Financial Redress.
"Until very recently the banks were deducting $1.2 billion a year in unfair exception fees," said managing director of Financial Redress, James Middleweek.
"In the court of public opinion, these unfair, excessive fees were already proving indefensible by the banks, so much so that some banks, including ANZ, were forced to reduce or abolish them from late last year."