Slater and Gordon has today announced a class action against the New Zealand subsidiary of ANZ Bank will be launched next week after thousands of bank customers signed up to recoup unfair penalty fees.
The Australian firm has partnered with New Zealand lawyer Andrew Hooker, who will lead the Fair Play on Fees class action, and litigation funder Litigation Lending Services in an action which follows similar cases in Australia.
Slater and Gordon class action lawyer Ben Hardwick said more than 11,000 customers of the ANZ Bank New Zealand (including its former subsidiary National Bank) had already registered for the class action but he anticipated further registrations before court documents are filed next Tuesday (June 25).
“On the current numbers alone, this will be the biggest group litigation in New Zealand’s history,” Mr Hardwick said.
It will be the first of several class actions targeting major Kiwi banks, with a further 13,000 New Zealanders who are clients of other financial institutions having signed up to Fair Play on Fees since the campaign was launched in March.
“We are encouraged that thousands of New Zealanders have taken this opportunity to take a stand and we anticipate that this action will force the banks to take a fairer approach to the way they charge fees.”
He said the institutions had been charging customers an average of $15 every time they overdrew their accounts, pay their credit cards late or bounce cheques, when the actual cost to the bank is only a few cents.
The lead plaintiff in the case will be Auckland woman Sandra Cooper, who banked with former ANZ subsidiary National Bank for both her personal banking and her cleaning business. Over the past six years, Ms Cooper has incurred around $1,500 in fees with the bank, typically as a result of automatic payments that overdrew her account by less than $50 for just a few days.
The case will be based on a principle of New Zealand contract law placing a limit on the amount a customer can be charged if they default on an obligation. If a default fee is higher than what it costs the other party then it is an unenforceable penalty.
Mr Hardwick said Slater and Gordon was lending its class action expertise to bank customers in New Zealand, where litigation of this scale is unprecedented.
“Over the past three decades, class actions have helped many thousands of Australians access justice and, as a pioneer in this form of litigation, Slater and Gordon is pleased to now be able provide the expertise that enabled that to happen to our neighbours in New Zealand,” Mr Hardwick said.
Litigation Lending Services Ltd will fund all legal costs and disbursements as well as supporting the management of the litigation and providing clients a guarantee that they will not be left out of pocket.
LLS managing director Michelle Silvers said: “Overcharging of bank fees is something that affects many thousands of everyday Kiwis and we are happy to support them in their action against the banks.”
The litigation funder has also worked with Slater and Gordon in a class action against Oz Minerals and another bought by Australian travel agents against major airlines over fuel surcharges. It is also presently funding an action against Bell Potter Securities limited.
Customers of ANZ Bank New Zealand have until 11:00pm next Monday (June 24) to register for the class action.
New Zealanders can join the action against unfair bank fees by registering at www.fairplayonfees.co.nz.