Illegal fees: how to get your money back from the building society

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Written By Kampretz Bianca

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A clause in the property savings conditions of the construction company BHW, according to which customers have to pay an annual fee of 12 euros for account management during the savings phase of their property savings contract, is unacceptable. The Federal Court of Justice decided this in response to the action brought by the Federal Association of Consumer Organizations (vzbv) against BHW Bausparkasse in November 2022. BHW had to change its conditions and refund the unduly withheld annual fees.
Federal Court of Justice, Sentence of November 15, 2022
File number: XI ZR 551/21
Consumer Lawyers: Law firm Loh, Luig & Matzkat, Lübeck

As early as 2017, the Federal Court of Justice banned credit account management fees after repayment of the building society loan as illegal at the request of the North Rhine-Westphalia consumer advice center.
Federal Court of Justice, Judgment dated May 9, 2017
File number: XI ZR 308/15

Announcement from the Federal Court of Justice: Building credit company administration, collective control and management of an allocation pool are not an extra service in the interests of building savers, but a legal obligation of building credit companies. The lawyers at Stiftung Warentest are convinced: all fees paid annually as part of construction savings contracts are illegal. Building societies have to reimburse them.

Heilbronn Regional Court: Also in Riester contracts

At the request of the Baden-Württemberg consumer advice center, judges at the Heilbronn regional court have now banned the building society Schwäbisch Hall from charging fees of 18 euros per year for Riester contracts. Building societies considered that the law on certification of Riester contracts allows this. The Heilbronn regional court, on the other hand, ruled: The law regulates the requirements for the approval of Riester financing contracts and does not allow unfair and therefore ineffective regulations in accordance with the general rules of the Civil Code. The judgment is not final. However, our lawyers believe that the Higher Regional Court is unlikely to change this situation in response to the building society’s appeal.
Heilbronn Regional Court, Judgment dated March 7, 2024
File number: Rt 6 O 179/23 (non-binding)

Dispute over limitation period

It is not yet clear to what extent building societies will have to repay illegally charged fees. In fact, claims expire three years after the end of the year in which they arose. However, the prerequisite is that all essential circumstances are known. Without knowledge of a claim, it only expires after ten years. Our lawyers believe: The construction savers were only able to find out about this after the fundamental decision on the matter was announced by the Federal Court of Justice. Previously, the statute of limitations did not expire. Civil society referee Dr. Markus Gehrlein has already ruled: This is a legal question of fundamental importance, the decision of which must be left to the courts.
Referee for private building societiesresolution of September 26, 2023
File number: 1821/2023

The Berlin Court of Appeal ruled in the dispute over the refund of illegal account fees at the Berliner Sparkasse: Consumers already knew enough to enforce their rights three years ago. After that, the refund request for fees paid until the end of 2020 has expired. Our lawyers are not convinced. The sentence is not final and will be reviewed by the Federal Court of Justice.

Our advice: request a refund using our sample texts

Demand refund. Challenge your building society with the help of our Sample letter to reimburse annual fees already debited. Make sure you contact the ombudsman if the building society does not fully address your claim. This stops the statute of limitations. Our Sample text also offers a template and instructions for this procedure. The effort is minimal and in our opinion you are likely to get your money’s worth.

The closing rate remains. All annual fees in building savings contracts are ineffective. However, the one-off fee of at least several hundred euros due when concluding savings contracts for buildings is still in force. The Federal Court of Justice expressly approved it many years ago.

Which building societies refund monthly and annual fees

In the summer of last year, 10 of the 17 building societies continued to charge and did not refund at least part of the fees. They did not provide any information on many questions (N/A).

Dispute over special rates

Other building societies feel entitled to retain the fees in whole or in part. If it is intended to “…grant the right to construction savings loan…”, it is effective pricing. Fees permitted by splitting contracts or changing the amount of property savings must also be charged annually – even if property savers do not require the special services. Test.de’s lawyers are not convinced. After all, the mortgage company’s clients have to pay the closing fee, which costs at least several hundred euros, immediately after signing the contract. They think: Special purpose annuities should also be repaid.

There is no statute of limitations yet

All credit companies only refund impermissible fees for the last three calendar years. This corresponds to the general statute of limitations. However, the European Court of Justice ruled last year: Claims for refunds of fees paid on the basis of unfair terms should not be time-barred before consumers can recognize that they are entitled to a refund.
European Court of Justicesentences dated June 10, 2021
File number: C-609/19 It is C-776/19 to C-782/19

Another addition in September: a ten-year limitation period is also contrary to EU law when it comes to services under a contract lasting more than ten years.
European Court of Justicesentence dated September 8, 2022
File number: C-80/21, C-81/21 and C-82/21

We think: The application for reimbursement of annual fees in the savings phase expires on December 31, 2024 at the earliest.

Debeka must refund the service fee

Now it is clear: for existing contracts, savers with Debeka will have to pay a service fee of 12 or 24 euros per year, depending on the tariff, “for the administration of the building society and control of the collective, as well as the management of the pool allocation,” according to the fund. The Koblenz Higher Regional Court declared it invalid in response to a lawsuit filed by the Saxony Consumer Center. It is not an additional service for building savers.
Koblenz Higher Regional Court, Judgment of December 5, 2019
File number: 2 U 1/19

The Hanover Regional Court banned LBS Nord account fees

The Landesbausparkasse (LBS) Nord was not authorized to introduce account fees in 2018. The Hanover Regional Court decided this at the request of the Federal Association of Consumer Organizations (vzbv). The building society announced the account fee of 18 euros per year in a circular. In return, it provides “all the services necessary to obtain the right to the interest-free building society loan”. The judges criticized the fact that the building society was passing on general operating costs to the client through the fee. They forced the credit company to inform all affected customers of the ineffectiveness of the contract change – or to immediately refund the money that had been wrongly debited.
Hanover Regional Court, Judgment of November 8, 2018
File number: 74 O 19/18

LBS Nord withdrew its appeal

LBS Nord appealed the regional court’s decision, but withdrew it following a ruling by the Higher Regional Court of Celle. The judges announced that they would reject the appeal as “manifestly unfounded”. With the account fee in the savings phase, the credit company is impermissibly passing on its own expenses to customers.
Superior Regional Court of Celle, Resolution dated March 27, 2019
File number: 3 U 3/19

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