ECONOMY

Consumer body takes banks to task on extra charges

Consumer organizations and banks have long been at loggerheads due to the charges the latter exact for a wide array of transactions. The battle escalated yesterday when consumer organization EKPOIZO served a notice of intention to sue 12 commercial banks unless they conform with earlier court decisions that oblige them to remove certain terms in lending contracts which the courts have termed abusive. EKPOIZO’s document provides details of the court decisions concerning consumer credit provisions as well as specific instances of banks violating the court rulings. Besides consumer groups, EKPOIZO also targets a variety of charges imposed on deposit accounts. EKPOIZO argues that these are also illegal and cites two court rulings, one by a lower Athens court in 1998 and one by the Athens Court of Appeals in 2000. In both cases, the courts ruled that a provision allowing banks to impose transaction charges on accounts with a balance lower than a specified minimum was illegal. The courts also ruled illegal two other practices: imposing a charge on cash withdrawals by credit card and a provision in credit card contracts that, while the card owner may file charges against businesses that have mis-charged the card, they may not against the issuing bank. Protecting guarantors EKPOIZO also aims at overturning other charges that are now considered legal. A few years ago, for example, the Bank of Greece, the country’s central bank, made a decision calling on commercial banks to replace various charges imposed on loan-takers with a single charge, paid just once. EKPOIZO considers even this single charge illegal. Other loan terms that EKPOIZO has targeted concern the imposition of a surcharge when the loan-taker decides to repay the loan ahead of schedule and the rights of guarantors of a variable rate loan who often find themselves in worse position than a delinquent loan-taker, with fewer bargaining rights. EKPOIZO, which has increasingly taken on banks as the numbers of defaults on loans increase, believes that if banks fail to comply with court decisions, defaulting loan-takers who had previously been taken to court should sue to recover any of their money related to interest surcharges.