Nedlands, Australia (PressExposure) July 29, 2009 -- In what is believed to be the first case of its kind in WA, new firm Financial Redress is lodging a writ on behalf of Jian Cheah, 24, of Bentley, to recover allegedly unfair penalty fees charged by BankWest for overdrawing on his transaction account.
Financial Redress managing director James Middleweek said banks and credit providers were permitted to charge customers penalty fees for overdrafts or late payments but only as a genuine pre-estimate of their costs, which were usually just a matter of cents.
But they were typically charging $35 to $50, as was the case with Mr Cheah.
"This is the first case to go to court and if the banks are not prepared to deal with this matter fairly, we expect hundreds more will follow," he said.
Mr Middleweek said he had been inundated with claims since Financial Redress was launched last month, some as high as $40,000.
"Our clients range from Jian to successful businesses with tens of thousands of dollars of claims," he said. "What unites them all, I believe, is they are fed-up being ripped off by the banks and they want redress."
Mr Cheah, who does part-time administrative work for the firm, said the court action was a matter of principle and that he was hoping to make more people aware of penalty charges.
Mr Middleweek claimed penalty charges were legally unenforceable and that banks simply deducted them from accounts in the hope customers wouldn't do anything about it. He said claims could go back six years and claimants were entitled to interest, if successful.
Mr Middleweek said he would also lodge a complaint with the Banking and Financial Services Ombudsman because BankWest had not responded to complaints his firm had lodged on behalf of 10 clients.
"In relation to them not responding, this is either ineptness or deliberate evasion," he said. "Either way it smacks of terrible customer service."
A spokesman for BankWest said it was not appropriate to comment when the matter was before the courts.
Research by Fujitsu Consulting last month revealed Australians were paying on average 22 per cent more in banking fees than British households and 11 per cent more than US households.