In April last year, the German Federal Court of Justice (BGH) ruled that banks must obtain the explicit consent of their customers when making changes to their general terms and conditions.
Most significantly, this meant that banks have to ask their customers for consent to being charged fees, and that customers can reclaim fees that have been charged without their explicit agreement.
However, some financial institutions have refused to follow the ruling, leading to thousands of complaints as well as two lawsuits.
The Federation of German Consumer Organizations (VZBV) has filed claims against two savings banks on behalf of several hundred consumers, who complain that the banks continued to increase fees after the court ruling.
The VZBV says that consumer centres across Germany received at least 3,200 complaints between June 2021 and February 2022 and a further 4,600 consumers sought advice from experts.
In some cases, customers who reclaimed charges also had their accounts terminated or were threatened with termination. In others, consumers complained that they felt pressured and coerced into agreeing to new General Terms and Conditions.
The Baden-Württemberg consumer centre called the banks’ behaviour a “brazen and, in our opinion, illegal attempt” to prevent bank customers from asserting their rights.
The consumer advice centre in Baden-Württemberg is itself taking legal action against a total of five banks for various reasons in connection with the implementation of the BGH ruling.
In two cases to date, the consumer advocates have been unsuccessful in the Regional Court of Stuttgart and have lodged appeals.
The financial supervisory authority is also monitoring the implementation of the ruling very closely and is leading discussions “with institutes, which became conspicuous in connection with the implementation of the judgement”.
Last October, the supervisory authority had already warned the financial institutions that they should heed the ruling of the decision.
On the other hand, banks and savings banks, complain that “obtaining the consent of customers in mass business involves an enormous amount of additional work for both contracting parties.”
Deutsche Kreditwirtschaft – the umbrella organization of the five major banking associations in Germany – said that many customers are not used to having to respond to requests to agree to changes in their contracts.
“Credit institutions therefore have to follow up with their customers in quite a few cases,” they said.
bank fees = (die) Bankgebühren
court = (das) Gericht
legal action = (die) Klage
judgement = (das) Urteil
consumer advice centre = (die) Verbraucherzentrale
We’re aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.