Australian Bank Slapped With AU$150,000 Fine for Upping Problem Gambler’s Credit Limit

Harris told the bank he didn’t want his credit limit upped until he had his gambling under control
The bank was found to have violated the National Consumer Credit Protection Act 2009
CBA’s actions have formed part of a case study by Australia’s Royal Commission
The judge said it would have taken Harris over 137 years to pay off his credit card balance
Under amended Australian law, unsolicited credit increase offers are now prohibited

Commonwealth Bank of Australia

The Commonwealth Bank of Australia was fined AU$150,000 after it was found guilty of increasing a known problem gambler’s credit limit. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Told bank of his gambling problem

The Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) was ordered to pay a AU$150,000 (US$107,711) penalty by Australia’s Federal Court last week after upping the credit limit of man who had warned the bank he was a problem gambler.

The case was brought to court by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), the national corporate regulator for financial services.

CBA nevertheless sent Harris a letter ten days later inviting him to increase his limit

The Federal Court heard that David Harris had informed the CBA via a phone conversation in October 2016 that he did not want his credit limit increased until he had his gambling under control. The CBA nevertheless sent Harris a letter ten days later inviting him to increase his limit from AU$27,100 (US$19,460) to AU$32,100 (US$23,050).

Just a month later, the CBA offered Harris, a roofer by trade, the chance to increase his limit to AU$35,100 (US$25,204).

The CBA’s actions in the Harris case have formed part of a case study by Australia’s Royal Commission, a non-governmental body that investigates matters of great national importance. The corporate affairs arm of ASIC posted a link to the case study on Twitter:

Justice Bernard Michael Murphy ruled that the CBA violated responsible lending provisions under the National Consumer Credit Protection Act 2009. Justice Murphy gave four reasons for the ruling. One was failure to undertake reasonable inquiries into whether Harris still believed himself to be a problem gambler. Another reason given was failure to verify whether Harris was still using his CBA credit card to pay for gambling expenses.

Suffering the side effects

Harris eventually took up the CBA’s offer to increase his credit card limit over a month after he was first offered an increase. Harris went on to rack up a balance of AU$35,706.91 (US$25,640.06) and then defaulted on a minimum repayment of AU$699 (US$502).

it would have taken him 137 years and 10 months to pay off the balance”

“If he incurred no additional charges on his credit card and each month he paid only the minimum repayment it would have taken him 137 years and 10 months to pay off the balance,” Justice Murphy said.

The court said that Harris only managed to continue paying off his credit card by working extended hours six to seven days a week in a physically demanding job. The court also found Harris was dependent on his gambling winnings, in addition to a loan from his employer.

Harris subsequently had trouble sleeping, became mentally and physically drained, and began to suffer depression and anxiety.

On page 107 of the case study by the royal commission, Harris provided evidence that two of the most difficult things to do when suffering from addiction is to admit to the problem and to reach out for help. Harris said: “in the phone call with Commonwealth, I tried to do both […] I tried to reach out for help and I didn’t get any. I got the opposite.”

Making amends

Justice Murphy recognized in his judgment that CBA had taken remedial measures to complete a “hardship arrangement” with Harris. The bank has also since introduced steps to address problem gambling related issues, in addition to introducing wider measures to help customers manage their credit card expenses.

Since the CBA case, the law in Australia has been amended, with unsolicited credit increase offers now prohibited.

Additionally, credit card contracts and credit limit increases must be judged as unsuitable if it’s likely applicants would be unable to repay the credit limit within the three-year period prescribed by ASIC. 

In November 2019, the Australian government proposed a self-exclusion register for online bettors. The Australian parliament approved the legislation the following month.

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