The judgment published by the Federal Court of Justice (BGH) on April 27 seemed unequivocal: banks are not allowed to simply increase current account fees by simply informing their customers and giving them an objection period of two months. The judges ruled that the principle “who does not contradict, accepts” is legally inadmissible.
The decision has dramatic consequences for banks and savings banks. For decades, this is exactly how many of them have applied fee increases. As the clause is inadmissible, the higher fees requested must be reimbursed after the judges’ verdict. These are hundreds of thousands of affected customers, overly charged fees are likely to amount to billions of euros.
But despite the seemingly clear verdict, even six months later, many banks and savings banks still refuse to compensate their customers. This was determined by the Federation of German Consumer Organizations (vzbv), which asked customers online how their banks and savings banks react to refund requests. “9000 of these questionnaires were completed, in many cases customers received the response from their bank that they rejected the request”, explains Ronny Jahn, lawyer at vzbv.
The consumer association is therefore now seeking further legal action against financial institutions. He chose the Sparkasse Köln-Bonn and the Berliner Sparkasse for a so-called model declaratory action. In this way, the BGH should decide whether the institute’s approach is legal. “The two savings banks have had most of the cases, probably also because they are among the largest in Germany,” says lawyer Jahn.
The defense strategy of the two savings banks, to which other institutes also refer, refers to an earlier judgment by the BGH, which it had rendered in a dispute between energy suppliers and customers. According to him, the prices are valid if customers have not complained for more than three years, even if they were obtained in an inefficient manner. The two savings banks now also refer to it in their statement on the actions of consumer advocates: “The Berliner Sparkasse is known for its moderate prices and has kept account prices stable for years,” said a spokesperson. word. No price increase has been made for five years. Moreover, they reacted quickly; the clause contested by the BGH no longer appears in the contracts.
BGH supposed to examine whether banks can invoke judgment on energy suppliers
Sparkasse Köln-Bonn expressed a similar view: Previous price adjustments on existing current accounts date back more than three and a half years, a spokesperson said. A realignment of the current account models slated for July 1 has been put on hold due to the BGH ruling that “BGH’s constant legal opinion” was in focus.
In essence, the question now is whether BGH’s earlier decision on energy suppliers can be transferred to the banking sector. If this were the case, bank customers would in principle no longer be able to object to fee increases that date back more than three years – not even more recently. The vzbv is of the opinion that the problems are completely different. “The earlier BGH judgment referred to contracts for the supply of energy on the basis of numerous special legal regulations, which have nothing to do with payment services,” vzbv lawyer Jahn said. This is precisely what the BGH is now supposed to clarify with the sample statement.
Consumer advocates are calling on affected bank customers to join the lawsuit, as at least 50 affected people are required for a model declaratory action. If the BGH agrees with the legal opinion of the vzbv, there is no longer any reason to reject the complaints of bank customers. “Consumers can demand reimbursement of fees charged by savings banks,” said Klaus Müller, member of the board of directors of the vzbv.
Financial regulator Bafin jumped on consumer advocates on Tuesday with an unusually clear statement. It expects credit institutions “that they take into account the judgment of the Federal Court of Justice on ineffective fee adjustments, that they immediately take all the necessary measures and that they treat their customers fairly.” Among other things, they must clearly inform them of the consequences of the judgment, provide them with all the information they need to be able to calculate the reimbursement request, reimburse the costs incorrectly invoiced and make provisions for them.