[Oz] Banks sued for billions in 'illegal' fees
by Adele Ferguson and Michael West via gan - The Age Thursday, May 13 2010, 3:53am
Tide is turning on Parasitic Banks
MILLIONS of Australians are being urged to join a series of class actions against the nation's banks, seeking the return of up to $5 billion in penalty and late fees that lawyers say have been illegally taken from customers.
The actions, potentially the biggest in Australian corporate history, will target the biggest four banks - ANZ, Commonwealth, National Australia and Westpac - and eight foreign and Australian regional banks.
The organisation behind the move, litigation funder IMF, said thousands of people had signed up within hours of the class actions being revealed on theage.com.au yesterday.
"It's been bedlam,'' IMF chief executive Hugh McLernon said. ''The interest is huge because of the pent-up anger these fees generate."
IMF will bankroll the actions in an effort to claw back at least $400 million from what its lawyers will say has been a systematic gouging of bank customers. The collective size of the claims could be much higher depending how many people join.
The move comes at a delicate time for the banks as politicians accuse them of exploiting their heightened market dominance after the global financial crisis to ratchet up fees and charges.
The action is targeting billions of dollars in various types of ''exception fees'', or penalty fees, charged by the banks.
They include honour fees (incurred when accounts are overdrawn and banks honour the payments), dishonour fees for bouncing cheques, late payment fees for credit cards and loans, and fees for overdrawing credit cards. These fees typically range between $25 and $60.
IMF will test the legal basis of the fees in its class actions. ''Banks have made billions from these unfair charges,'' its website says. It urges anyone with at least one penalty fee over the past six years to sign up.
The central legal argument behind the claims is that one party to a contract, when it seeks damages from the other party for breaking a contractual term such as a late payment, can recover only a reasonable pre-estimate of its actual costs.
Because the fees charged by the banks are many times their actual costs, IMF is expected to argue the fees were not legally enforceable and customers are therefore be entitled to refunds.
The Reserve Bank last year revealed how much the banks were collecting in penalty fees - almost $1.2 billion in the 2008 financial year.
No figures are available for previous years, but IMF estimates the fees could total more than $5 billion over six years.
Claims against the banks will be for repayment of fees plus interest from the date of the deduction, dating back six years.
The case began yesterday with the launch of a website - financialredress.com.au - for customers to register claims.
Personal claims are expected to average about $2000, while claims by businesses are expected to average about $5000.
Some banks, including National Australia Bank, have recently abolished penalty fees, and others have reduced them. However, these banks will still be targeted for repayment of fees charged in previous years.
A spokeswoman for Westpac said the bank had already acted to lower ''exception'' fees. ''We were the first bank to cut our exception fees down to $9,'' she said. On the class actions, she said: ''It is hard to make specific comment until we see the case.''
A spokesman for National Australia Bank said: "We urge the other banks to follow NAB's lead to abolish the fees."
A spokesman for ANZ said the bank would not comment.
Federal Financial Services Minister Chris Bowen also declined to comment - despite having cleared the way for the case by recently overseeing a change in the rules on who can launch a class action.
Family First senator Steve Fielding welcomed the class action but said he was disappointed that it was needed after he tried unsuccessfully to have laws passed against the fees.
"It's high time we got our own back against the banks because they've got away with far too much for way to long," he said. "We're talking about millions of dollars which have been ripped out of families.''
© 2010 Fairfax Digital
Follow this link to participate in class action.
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Taking Back [Our] Homes from the Banks
by Bill Quigley via reed - ICH Thursday, May 13 2010, 1:54pm
May has seen an upsurge in local organizations exercising their human rights to housing. Most people recognize that international human rights guarantee all humans a right to housing. With the millions of homeless living in our communities and the millions of empty foreclosed houses all across our communities, groups have decided to put them together.
Organizations across the US are engaging in "housing liberation" and "housing defense" to exercise their human rights to housing. Here are a few examples.
In Madison Wisconsin, the grass-roots organization Operation Welcome Home helped Desiree Wilson, 24, a mother with small children to move into a vacant house, hook up utilities and change the locks, according to nbc15.com in Madison. The home was vacant due to foreclosure. Bank of America owns the home now. "It's not against the law, "said Ms. Wilson. "This is above the law. It's just so much bigger than me. Housing is a human right."
Operation Welcome Home held a press conference criticizing the billions of dollars in bailouts to mortgage lenders. "We're asking them to turn over the property to the community whose tax dollars are funding what they are doing." One of the spokespersons for the group, Z!Haukness, reminded people that "housing is a human right, no matter what income, no matter what rental history." The group plans more "liberations" of other vacant property.
A local land trust, Madison Area Community Land Trust, says if the activists convince the bank to donate the home the trust can find the resources to turn it into affordable housing. Taking over the vacant foreclosed property is "a brave move" says Michael Carlson of the Madison trust. Carlson told the Madison Cap Times "They're compelling the citizens of Dane County to confront the very real contradictions in the way we provide housing - massive surpluses in the market that led to a collapse in credit and simultaneously people without shelter and permanent affordable housing."
A Toledo, Ohio, factory worker, Keith Sadler lost his home of 20 years at a foreclosure sale for $33,000. When it came time to be evicted, Keith had had enough. According to the toledoblade.com, he and 6 friends barricaded the house up to resist the foreclosure eviction. All were all members of the Toledo Foreclosure Defense League. After 5 days the house was raided by the local SWAT team and all were arrested on misdemeanor charges and released.
In Portland, Oregon, a local group, Right 2 Survive, seized control of vacant land in front of an abandoned school. They set up tents for the un-housed. "This is a celebration because we are taking our rights back, " Julie McCurdy told Take Back the Land. "What we're doing is coming up with the solutions tailored for our community. We are tired of waiting for city hall to come up with revised plans and rehashed ordinances that do not meet the needs of un-housed Portlanders."
Sacramento, Philadelphia, Chicago, Atlanta
A faith-based group has been moving families into vacant homes in Sacramento. The Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign moved a family into a vacant home in Philadelphia. The Chicago Anti-eviction Campaign marched to protect a family from eviction and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement protested auctions of family homes on the county courthouse steps of Atlanta. Other community actions across the country are expected during the rest of May.
Housing as a Human Right
Housing is a human right recognized by a number of international human rights laws. For example, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted after the Second World War, promised "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood."
Still, the National Coalition for the Homeless estimates of the number of homeless people in the US range from 1.6 to 3.5 million.
Foreclosures are soaring. Some housing experts say 4 million foreclosures are possible in 2010. There were 3.4 million homes which got foreclosure notices, auction sale notices or bank repossessions in 2009. In the first quarter of 2010, RealtyTrac reported there were 932,000 foreclosures. Auctions were scheduled on 369,000 homes in the same time. Banks repossessed 257,000 homes during that time
Organizations working to exercise peoples' human rights to housing include Take Back the Land and the US Human Rights Network. Both are working with local community organizations to support their campaigns.
[We urge all people everywhere to rid their respective societies of parasitic banks. One need only look at the methods banks employ to obtain profits via 'fiat money' and debt slavery. COMMERCIAL BANKS are by their own standards and methods criminal organisations. Community 'banks,' however, would serve the people rather than EXPLOIT and enslave them. All commercial/merchant/trading bankers and financiers must be held accountable for destroying the global economy -- saving bankers with the hard-earned TAX money of citizens is an ABSURD proposition! Ed.]
Oz Bank forced to refund "millions" in fees rip-off!
by Adele Ferguson via gan - SMH Saturday, May 15 2010, 2:36pm
NATIONAL Australia Bank has been forced to refund millions of dollars in late penalties it charged in error over the past seven years as the battle over unfair bank fees intensifies.
NAB overcharged at least 30,000 banking customers an estimated 62 per cent on a set of fees that are themselves being challenged in a $5 billion class action against 12 banks.
The bungle has strengthened the chances of the class action, according to the chief executive of litigation funder IMF, Hugh McLernon.
He said NAB's repeated error demonstrated that the contract between a bank and its customer was one-sided and the setting of charges had no connection to the actual cost.
''If there were numerous complaints about these exception fees over the seven years they were charged then it is surprising the overcharging was not detected over such a long period of time," Mr McLernon said.
In 2002 and 2003 NAB increased the ''exception fee'' rates on business accounts, but charged many personal clients, who also held business accounts, $50 instead of $30.
In the past three weeks, NAB has been quietly refunding this money to existing clients.
On May 7 - three days after the $5 billion class action against the banks was allowed to go ahead - NAB sent out letters and cheques apologising for the error.
The bungle is estimated to have cost its customers $3.5 million.
It is not known when the bank discovered the error or how many complaints were received by the bank between 2002 and 2009 relating to such high fees.
NAB has 3.6 million customers. A NAB spokesman said the error affected less than 1 per cent.
''NAB proactively contacted these customers to credit them with the incorrectly charged fee, plus compensation,'' the spokesman said.
''NAB takes its obligations very seriously in these situations and therefore alerted ASIC to the error and since then has taken steps to rectify the situation." It is not known when NAB alerted ASIC to the error.
The blunder was buried on NAB's website.
As the number of applicants to the class action swelled to 68,000, consumer groups predicted a win would spell trouble for a number of industries, starting with telecommunications.
The director of policy for the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network, Elissa Freeman, said phone companies charged customers up to $20 for direct debit dishonour fees and $15 for late payments. ''This (class action) isn't limited to the banking industry. The argument can be made across all consumer contracts and telcos should be on notice,'' she said.
Nicole Rich from the Consumer Action Law Centre said the introduction on July 1 of new laws regarding unfair contract terms will ''open up new avenues'', although the laws will not apply retrospectively.
Maurice Blackburn, the law firm handling the case, said the class action was already three times the size of the previous record action in Australia.
The chairman of Maurice Blackburn, Bernard Murphy, said the firm had fielded calls concerning gym memberships, internet service providers and mobile phone contracts since the class action was announced.
© 2010 Fairfax Digital
[It should not be forgotten that it was the Keating LABOR GOVERNMENT that deregulated the Banking sector and allowed these parasitic rogues to exploit the people of Australia! Neither the Labor or Liberal Party today serves the interests of the Australian public, that fact is PAINFULLY CLEAR. REFUSE the two party puppet system and demand REAL REPRESENTATIVE GOVERNMENT.
Unrepresentative politicians deceiving the masses should be surrendered to the Courts to face TREASON charges. WE WILL NOT BE LIED TO AND EXPLOITED ANY LONGER! Ed]
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