July 27, 2016
SYDNEY (AFP) - A long-running class action over credit card fees at one of Australia's biggest banks was dismissed Wednesday by the nation's highest court, dealing a blow to customers who hoped to recoup millions of dollars.
The decision culminated a six-year fight which argued that ANZ Bank's late payment fee of up to Aus$35 (US$26) was unfair as it far exceeded the true costs of dealing with the issue.
A 2014 ruling by Justice Michelle Gordon of the Federal Court in Melbourne found in favour of the customers, calling the fees "exorbitant and unconscionable", but a full bench of the court last year overturned the ruling on appeal.
Lawyers appealed that ruling to the High Court, which decided ANZ acted honestly and its fees were reasonable.
"We are pleased with today's decision by the High Court confirming that our late payment fees on credit cards are legitimate and fair," ANZ's Australia chief Fred Ohlsson said.
"Today's decision by Australia's highest court brings to an end this lengthy and expensive litigation... which we have long held was without merit."
ANZ, the country's third-largest bank, was the first of eight major lenders to go to court as part of a case that began in 2010. It has involved more than 185,000 customers, who were trying to recover the "excessive" fees and claiming millions of dollars in damages.
Class actions against the other big banks were put on hold until the outcome of Wednesday's decision.
Law firm Maurice Blackburn, which brought the class action on behalf of ANZ customers, said it had been a worthwhile exercise despite the loss.
"The class action sought to set an important precedent in calling for better standards when it comes to extra fees across the banking industry," said its head of class actions Andrew Watson.
"Many of the late payment fees charged have been reduced, but we are concerned in light of today's decision that the banks now have a license to hike those fees back up."