Westpac hit with class action over ‘irresponsible’ mortgages

By Leith van Onselen

Westpac will face a class action in the federal court for issuing home loans that breached responsible lending rules. From SBS News:

Westpac is facing a class action for allegedly giving loans to people who couldn’t afford to pay them back.

The class action, in the Federal Court, is the first against one of Australia’s big four banks since the banking royal commission delivered its damning report.

Maurice Blackburn principal lawyer Ben Slade says Westpac will be accused of breaching its obligations to protect customers from financial harm.

“Westpac is required to comply with strict obligations which are specifically designed to protect consumers from irresponsible lending and the risk of financial hardship,” he said on Thursday.

“This case will seek to prove that Westpac failed to comply with these obligations and that this failure caused substantial losses for many consumers.”

The case could involve thousands of home loans issued after January 1, 2011.

This case is important as it will help determine lending standards going forward.

That is, the Hayne Royal Commission did not explicitly outlaw the use of Household Expenditure Measure (HEM) in assessing a borrowers’ capacity owing to the pending Westpac vs ASIC case. Therefore, the outcome of Westpac versus ASIC is going to have some bearing on the legality of benchmarks, as will the success of this class action.

If Westpac loses these cases, then the banks will be forced to abandon the HEM altogether and rigorously scrutinise a borrowers’ capacity, with the end result being even tighter credit availability.

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