Battling the banks on fees

Reporter: Jackie Quist

Bankbeaters has lodged millions of dollars in claims against the banks, exposing the top ways the banks are ripping us off - and how to get your money back. Solicitor Richard Armour from Bankbeaters can't keep up with the demand for bank refunds.

In the last month alone, he has helped thousands of consumers lodge more than $5 million in claims against the banks, suing them for fees that he claims shouldn't have been imposed in the first place. "We've had so many enquiries from so many people across Australia, that we're uncovering things that even we are shocked by," Richard said.

With so many claims coming in, Bankbeaters can reveal the top three ways the banks take from customers - and what they shouldn't. At the top of the list is the honour/ dishonour trick "Some of the banks are actually making the payment for the customer, even though there is not enough money in the bank," Richard said "They charge a fee for doing that, then they dishonour it and charge a second fee for dishonouring the payment."The average penalty we pay: $75.

At number two, there's the additional interest fees we pay when the banks change the interest rate on a credit card without telling us."The customer will get a statement where the interest is more than what it was on the previous statement," Richard said.Bankbeaters say this can cost the customer thousands.

And coming in at number three, the penalties the banks hit us with when they change the day of a direct debit. "The customer may arrange for that direct debit to pay an insurance policy," Richard said. "If the bank doesn't do it on the exact day, two things happen: firstly, the account can be short when the direct debit is taken, in which case the bank charge a fee for that. And secondly, if the charge doesn't get to the insurance policy in time, then the insurance policy can be in default."

Bankbeaters say on average, we get charged $100. "Sadly, most of these fees are paid by ordinary mums and dads," Richard said. "They aren't rich people, they're people that struggle to pay their bills." There's no mercy for any of us. In 2000, the banks gouged $6.2 billion in fees from loyal Australian customers and small businesses.

The Reserve Bank says last year, the banks lined their vaults with almost $10 billion in fees alone - a massive 58 per cent jump. "It's outrageous, in my opinion, that the banks should be getting away with this," Richard said. A senate inquiry into bank fees was closed last year when the federal election was called. And calls for the new government to start a new inquiry seem to have fallen on deaf ears. But hundreds of thousands of us are fed up, waging a people's war on bank fees in the hope that our small claims could lead to big changes.

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