Banks to face action over unfair mortgage exit fees

From July 1, ASIC will also have the power to go after institutions which seek to rebadge current exit fees as upfront entry fees.

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Treasurer Wayne Swan and Financial Services Minister Chris Bowen said these new powers would make it easier for borrowers to switch to a competitor offering a cheaper rate, providing a major boost for competition in the mortgage market.

“Currently, some banks are using mortgage exit fees to lock customers into their home loans,” Mr Swan and Mr Bowen said in a statement on Sunday.

“Exit fees can be so high that there is no incentive to switch to another lender, even if they are offering a substantially lower interest rate.

“The Government is determined to make the banking system work for families, not against them, and these tough new powers are a major step to delivering on that commitment.”

From July 1, ASIC will have the power to take action against any bank for charging an early exit fee considered unfair or unconscionable.

Consumers will also be able to challenge early exit fees that are unfair or unconscionable.

Mr Swan and Mr Bowen said ASIC was most likely to take action against banks trying to profit from exit fees or establishment fees rather than fees which merely recover a fair level of costs.

Any mortgage exit fee found by a court to be unfair will be declared void, with ASIC able to seek refunds for customers.

ASIC released guidance on Sunday on how it proposes to tackle unfair terms.

Following consultation with the industry, ASIC will now develop a specific framework on regulation of early mortgage exit fees.

“The global financial crisis has created some significant challenges for competition in the mortgage market,” they said.

“These can’t be solved overnight but the Gillard government is determined to take action wherever possible to boost competition and improve protections for Australian families.”

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