The "Fair Play on Fees" group behind representative legal action against banks over default fees say about 11,000 people have signed up for their campaign since it was launched yesterday and they expect to be able to file court documents within weeks.
In a statement today the group, consisting of New Zealand lawyer Andrew Hooker, Australian class action experts Slater & Gordon and litigation funder Litigation Lending Services, say within the first seven hours of their website's launch, more than 7000 people had registered at a rate of 1,000 per hour.
"New Zealanders are signing up more rapidly than the rate Australians signed up to a similar class action campaign launched in Australia (per capita basis). In the first 24 hours of that campaign 22,000 Australians had registered," they say.
Hooker says he hadn't anticipated such a response from the public.
“We now expect the website to register more than 20,000 in the first 48 hours of the campaign. We didn’t expect these numbers on the back of the Australian experience. We are very confident that on the back of these numbers we will be able to file court documents within weeks," says Hooker.
Yesterday the group said it was seeking to "claim back excessive" bank default fees charged to customers over the past six years, which is the limitation period for such action. "Exception" fees at the centre of the case are what are known as honour and dishonour fees, plus credit card late payment and credit card over limit fees.
"Customers are charged an average of NZ$15 every time they overdraw their accounts, pay their credit card late or bounce a cheque when the cost to the bank is actually just a few cents," Hooker told a press conference at Auckland's SkyCity Hotel yesterday.
The New Zealand Bankers' Association responded to news of the looming legal action by saying the group behind it failed to take into account differences between the New Zealand and Australian banking sectors. It said three of the four fees being targeted have been overseen by the Commerce Commission for 10 years, and customers concerned about fees should talk to their bank rather than to lawyers.
The parties behind the legal action stand to pocket 25% of any of the money won through their action, plus getting Litigation Lending Services' costs of between NZ$3 million and NZ$4 million back.
A Commerce Commission spokeswoman told interest.co.nz the consumer watchdog did not know what legislation the so-called class action would be taken under. In 2010 the Commerce Commission said a late payment credit card fee of up to NZ$15 was likely to be justifiable on a cost recovery basis.