Banks have been given the right to appeal against a court ruling that could have seen more than £1bn in unauthorised overdraft charges returned to customers.
In a blow to The Independent's bank charges campaign, the House of Lords has ruled it is prepared to hear an appeal from seven banks and building societies who maintain the charges are not subject to a consumer law on fairness.
The decision overturns a ruling by the Court of Appeal that the banks should not be able to take their two-year battle against the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) to the highest court in Britain.
In February, the Court of Appeal upheld a High Court ruling last year that the charges fell under the 1999 Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts legislation, as the OFT had argued. Campaigners had hoped one million people whose cases had been frozen pending the case outcome would soon receive a payout.
The institutions – Abbey, Barclays, Clydesdale, HBOS and Lloyds TSB (now part of the same group), HSBC, RBS and Nationwide Building Society – are waiting for a date for the hearing.
The OFT brought the test case in April 2007 after thousands of customers started demanding refunds for the charges. People who go into unauthorised overdraft or breach their agreed limit can be charged as much as £35 for a single bounced payment, although the cost to the banks could be as little as £2.50.
Prior to the case, banks had paid out £559m in refunds. Martin Lewis, the creator of moneysavingexpert.com, who has run a campaign against the charges, said: "It's time the banks gave up and paid out. Both the High Court and the Court of Appeal have already said bank charges are governed by fairness rules and the OFT has said it provisionally thinks charges are unfair."
The Which? personal finance campaigns manager, Doug Taylor, said: "It's outrageous that public money is being used to drag this saga out for even longer when the banks should accept the Court of Appeal's decision and draw a line under this issue once and for all."