Frankfurt Bausparkassen are not allowed to charge their customers flat-rate fees such as an annual fee, even during the savings phase. The XI. Civil Senate of the Federal Court of Justice (BGH) on Tuesday ineffective. BHW had asked for a fee of twelve euros per year and account.
The top civil judges justified their decision by saying that such a fee would put home savers at an unreasonable disadvantage. “Because with the annual fee, costs for administrative activities are passed on to the savers, which the building society has to provide due to its own legal obligation,” the Karlsruhe judges explained their judgment.
“In the savings phase, home savers already have to accept that their savings deposits only pay comparatively low interest at the time the home savings contract was concluded,” the BGH announced. In addition, building societies could demand a closing fee from the savers when concluding the building savings contract.
For building societies, it is not the first defeat in court. The current judgment was about account management fees that customers have to pay during the savings phase of a home savings contract. In the savings phase, home savers initially pay part of the home savings sum themselves.
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If the contract is “ready for allocation”, the loan phase begins, in which customers can take out the remaining amount as a loan. The federal judges had already declared annual account fees in the loan phase to be invalid in 2017.
24 million home savings contracts potentially affected
The judgment that has now been passed was obtained by the Federal Association of Consumer Organizations (vzbv). The two previous instances had already ruled against the building society (Az. XI ZR 551/21). “As far as we know, many building societies charge such a fee or a similar fee during the savings phase of a building loan contract,” said David Bode, Legal Enforcement Team Adviser, to the Handelsblatt. In his opinion, the BGH’s decision should therefore also be of considerable importance for other building societies and their building society savers.
Consumer advocates estimate that around 24 million home savings contracts across Germany are potentially affected by such fees. Interest in this form of savings had recently increased again. In principle, affected consumers must take action themselves in order to recover overpaid fees. The vzbv is calling on the building societies to approach their customers and to repay unjustly received fees themselves, said vzbv board member Ramona Pop.
“The verdict should have a signal effect for the industry,” said Michael Möller, consumer protection expert for the Finanzwende citizens’ movement. He also demands that building societies actively approach their customers. “Especially with a view to the approaching end of the year, building societies should not rely on statutes of limitations, but be accommodating in the face of their own mistakes,” he said.
According to the vzbv, the question of how long retrospectively affected home savers can claim back fees paid without reason is controversial. At least the standard statute of limitations of three years can be assumed.
The Association of Private Building Societies regrets today’s decision by the Federal Court of Justice. “The Bausparkassengesetz expressly allows a fee,” said a spokesman. The association pointed out that fees in the savings and loan phase are “out of the question” in other European countries with building societies. The association can only give an assessment of the effects of the judgment once the written reasons for the judgment are available.
More: The return of home savings contracts