Australian Federal Court judge Michelle Gordon favoured on Wednesday bank customers who lodged a class action lawsuit against ANZ over excessive charges on late payment fees for credit cards.
She declared as extravagant, exorbitant and unconscionable the $20 to $35 fee charged on thousands of ANZ clients when the real cost is only between 50 cents and $5.50.
The lawsuit had Lucio Paciocco as lead complainant and includes 43,500 other ANZ customers in the class action suit initiated by law firm Maurice Blackburn.
However, the judge declared that honour, dishonour, non-payment or overlimit fees collected by the lender is different from the late payment fee and is not considered a penalty. The law firm plans to appeal that part of the judge's decision.
The other major victory for the complainants was that the judge said the time limit of six years for fees charged does not apply, opening the door for more ANZ customers to seek refunds all the way back to 10 years.
Besides joining the class action, some customers pulled out their business from the big 4 Australian banks and instead shifted to smaller lenders that do not charge exorbitant late payment fees.
The ruling is only first of eight class action suits that the law firm plans to file involving 185,300 clients of eight lenders. They are claiming about $243 million in damages.
But ANZ Australia Chief Executive Philip Chronican said, quoted by The Australian, "The implication of today's decision for ANZ and its customers are still far from clear and it is likely to be some time until this matter is finally resolved."
The landmark decision now could lead to questions about late payment fees charged by telecommunications and utilities companies.
Gerard Brody, chief executive of the Consumer Action Law Centre, said, quoted by The Sydney Morning Herald, "Telcos especially should examine this judgment and whether their fees are similarly excessive, extravagant and unconscionable."
The same advice was given by Choice Chief Executive Alan Kirkland to energy firms that similarly charge late payment fees.