43,000 ANZ customers lose "late fee" class action
THE High Court has ruled that ANZ Bank was not doing the wrong thing when it charged customers up to $35 in late payment fees.
The decision puts to rest a class action involving 43,000 of Australians who joined in a challenge over whether ANZ's late charges were fair.
Now Maurice Blackburn Lawyers say it is up to the government to take action.
The argument centred on the claim that ANZ's fees were unfair, since it was able to charge $35 per late payment when the bank itself was only losing between 50c and $5.50 per transaction.
A 2014 decision in the Federal Court backed the claim, but it was overturned last year.
The tens of thousands of customers appealed but today it was dismissed with costs.
Maurice Blackburn head of class actions Andrew Watson said the result showed people power was not enough to fight bank charges.
"Today's High Court result means banking customers have no effective means to challenge bank fees which bear no relationship to their real costs," Mr Watson said.
"The ball is now firmly in the Government's court if consumers are to be provided with real protection from banks using fees to gouge customers."
The majority of the High Court found that ANZ's claim that the bank had to collect extra fees in late payments to cover debt collection costs, failed loans and for holding "regulatory capital" - the money the bank must have in reserve by law.
The court found the fees did not amount to unconscionable conduct, unfair contract or that the transactions were unjust.
It found in fact the fees charged were not punishments because "the legitimate interests of the bank were affected" by each transaction.
ANZ was not the only bank dragged through the courts over their fees.
National Australia Bank settled with its own customers earlier this year as part of a $6.6 million class action.
Even in defeat, the class action was expected to have an impact on how other companies - including telcos and utilities - collect or charge late fees from customers.
TIMELINE: SIX YEARS OF FIGHTING
22 September 2010: First bank fees class action filed against ANZ5 December 2011: Justice Gordon in the Federal Court finds that late payment fees are capable of being penalties, but finds for ANZ on other fees
16 December 2011: Class actions filed against Commonwealth, Westpac, NAB and Citibank
22 December 2011: Maurice Blackburn appeals adverse findings in Justice Gordon's December judgment
1 February 2012: Class action filed against Westpac subsidiaries St George and BankSA
18 April 2012: Class action filed against BankWest
14 August 2012: High Court hears appeal from Justice Gordon's judgment of 5 December 2011
6 September 2012: High Court rules that bank fees can be considered penalties
2-10 December 2013: Bank fees class action trial against ANZ runs in the Federal Court before Justice Michelle Gordon
5 February 2014: Justice Gordon hands down judgment finding that late payment fees on credit cards are penalties and should be repaid, with no retrospective time limitation on claims. Justice Gordon finds for the ANZ on the other fees.
18 - 19 August 2014: Hearing of appeal before Full Court of the Federal Court
8 April 2015: Appeal judgment delivered by the Full Court of the Federal Court. Finds in favour of ANZ on its appeals and against the plaintiff on its appeals.
4 February 2016: Maurice Blackburn returns to High Court in a final bid to resolve the bank fees battle for ANZ customers once and for all.
27 July 2016: High Court hands down final determination in the case finding against banking customers.