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ANZ, Westpac Face Wider Class Action Over Credit Card Late Fees

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Aug. 12 (Bloomberg) -- Australian lenders including Westpac Banking Corp. and Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. face a wider class action law suit on late credit card fees.

Law firm Maurice Blackburn Lawyers filed an open class action proceeding in the New South Wales Supreme Court today against ANZ, Westpac, Citigroup Inc. and Westpac units St. George Bank Ltd. and BankSA, it said in an e-mailed statement. It plans to extend the action to include Commonwealth Bank of Australia, the country’s largest lender by market value, CBA’s unit Bankwest, National Australia Bank Ltd., and American Express Co, it said.

“What we have done here is expanded the action to include everybody who’s ever been charged a late fee by three of the largest banks in the country,” Paul Gillett, a Melbourne-based senior associate at the firm said by phone today. “There is no necessity at this stage for customers to register. The registration is deferred until any successful outcome such as judgment or settlement when we have money to distribute.”

The class action suit could bring in at least hundreds of thousands of Australians, he said. More than 185,000 Australians signed up online to be part of earlier lawsuits, according to Maurice Blackburn’s website. The Federal Court ruled Feb. 5 that ANZ illegally charged customers for making late credit card payments.

The late-payment fees amounted to “extravagant, exorbitant and unconscionable charges,” Federal Court Justice Michelle Gordon in Melbourne said in a 105-page judgment. She dismissed other ANZ customer claims that the bank’s account fees for dishonoring a payment or exceeding account limits were also illegal. ANZ and its customers are appealing the decision with a hearing scheduled for Aug. 18, Bentham IMF Ltd., the Sydney-based company that funded the litigation against ANZ, said in a regulatory filing today.

Bentham will also fund the open class action, it said in today’s statement.

ANZ shares were 1.2 percent higher and Westpac was up 1.3 percent at 12:22 p.m. in Sydney. The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index was 1.1 percent higher.

To contact the reporter on this story: Narayanan Somasundaram in Sydney at nsomasundara@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chitra Somayaji at csomayaji@bloomberg.net Iain McDonald, Edward Johnson

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