Unfair bank penalty fees

Some banks impose unfair or even unlawful fees on their customers, but you don't have to blindly accept them. Fight back!
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  • Updated:23 Apr 2010

02.Reclaim your fees

Logos for Consumer Action Law Centre, CHOICE and Fair go on fees

Financial institutions in Australia are charging millions of dollars in unfair penalty fees each year and we think consumers stand a good chance of getting their fees repaid if they challenge them.

We understand challenging your bank, credit union or building society can seem daunting so we’ve provided a tool kit to help you. It includes a template letter that you can download, adapt and send.

Please note, the information in our guide is general in nature and is not a substitute for obtaining legal advice. Neither CHOICE nor Consumer Action Law Centre accepts any liability for any action based on any or all of the information in this tool kit or for any loss suffered as a result of reliance on this information. We have, however, made every effort to ensure the information is correct at the time of writing. Our guide only applies to consumers in Australia.

Good luck! Please let us know how you go – send an email to campaigns@choice.com.au to give us feedback.

Tool kit for reclaiming unfair penalty fees

  1. Add up your claim
  2. Make a complaint by phone
  3. Send a letter
  4. Other options if your complaint is unsuccessful

1. Add up your claim

  • You can challenge the following unfair penalty or default fees that you’ve paid (including any on accounts you’ve since closed) up to a maximum of three or six years depending on what state you reside:
    • Periodic payment and direct debit dishonour fees
    • Cheque dishonour fees
    • Overdrawn account (honour) fees
    • Deposited (inward) cheque dishonour fees
    • Credit card late payment fees
    • Credit card over-the-limit fees
    • Check your statements and add up the costs. You won’t need to set out each fee and the date it was charged in any letter you send, but you need to be prepared in case you’re asked to demonstrate how you calculated the amount you’re claiming.
    • To avoid unnecessary document copying fees, you could consider limiting your claim to penalty fees which you already have proof of. If you’re successful, then ask your financial institution for copies of old statements to check if you were charged any other penalty fees.
    • If you want to look further you can ask your financial institution to provide you with copies of old statements but you may be charged a fee. The copies should be provided within a reasonable timeframe (30 days for credit card and bank account statements)

    2. Make a complaint by phone

    The first step in trying to reclaim your fees is to make an official complaint phone call to your financial institution. A strong phone call in which you state your experiences can be very effective, and sometimes more effective than a letter. If you are unsure of what to say, you can download our telephone "cheat sheet". However, you should lawalways make a note of the conversation, including the date and time, person you spoke to and ask for a reference number for the call. Below are the numbers for the Big Four.

    ANZ - 13 13 14
    Commonwealth Bank - 13 22 21
    Westpac - 1300 130 467
    NAB - 13 22 65

    Telephone cheat sheet (pdf)

    • Click here  to download our tips for making a telephone complaint to your bank, credit union or building society.

    For bank customers, your bank's contact details can be found here. For credit union and building society members, you'll find contact details here.

    If your bank, credit union or building society doesn’t deal with your call as you’d like, or tries to put you off taking your complaint further, go to step 3 and send a letter or go to step 4 and make a complaint to the Ombudsman.

    3. Send a letter

    You may prefer to send a letter to your financial institution if you’re not comfortable making your case over the telephone.

    You will also need to send a letter if your financial institution doesn’t provide an acceptable response to your telephone complaint.

    Download our template complaint letter, fill in the details of your claim and send it to your financial institution. For bank customers, your bank's contact details can be found here. For credit union and building society members, you'll find contact details here

    Template letter (Word format)

    The banks have a number of standard responses they use to justify their fees (see But the bank says… ). We think they’re wrong and we’re putting pressure on the Government to enforce the law.

    If your letter is unsuccessful in reclaiming fees, see below.

    4. Other options if your claim is not successful

    • Join the class action against banks to reclaim all the unfiar fees you've paid over the years.
    • Some banks and credit unions may only offer to refund part of the penalty fees you've claimed, say the last six months. It's up to you whether you are happy with that offer, but remember it is only an offer and you also have the choice of continuing to demand a full refund of penalty fees you have been charged over the past six years (or three years if you're in the Northern Territory). Banks must generally resolve your dispute within 21 days, unless they let you know they need more time. In any case, they should complete their investigation within 45 days. If they can’t, they must tell you why they can’t, give you monthly updates and give you a date when they think they’ll be able to resolve your dispute.
    • Credit unions and building societies don’t have to meet these specific timeframes, but they should still respond to your complaint within a reasonable time.
    • If your bank, credit union or building society doesn’t provide you with copies of old account statements, refuses to refund any penalty fees it has charged you, or makes you an offer that you’re not happy with, you can take your complaint further by either:
      • complaining to the Ombudsman (a free service)
      • taking legal action in a court/tribunal in your home state or territory

      Complaining to the Ombudsman

      Consumers with unresolved grievances with banks, insurance companies and/or other financial service providers now have a free one-stop shop for complaints, following changes to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) terms of reference in January 2010. The FOS is the amalgamation of several previous complaints schemes.

      See all the details here about the Financial Ombudsman Service.

      Legal Action

      Taking your claim to a court or tribunal involves taking formal legal action against your financial institution but this won’t necessarily be expensive. In many states and territories you’ll be able to start legal action in the small claims or consumer tribunal, which have much quicker processes and are less expensive forums than a court. Here  is a list of tribunals.

      However, there are several issues that you need to be aware of before launching legal action, including:

      • There is a risk that if you lose your case you might be ordered to pay your financial institution’s legal costs (which could be quite high).
      • Even if you win your bank could appeal the decision to a higher court, which means higher legal costs (for you and them) to continue fighting the case.

      Whether to take legal action will depend on the individual circumstances of your case. If you're considering taking legal action, we strongly advise you to seek legal advice in your state or territory first.

      Consumer Action Law Centre also has a fact sheet on taking your dispute to VCAT (the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal) that Victorian consumers can download from the Consumer Action website.

      You might also want to join the class action against unfair bank fees.

      Fair go on fees hyperlink


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