An Australian regulator has taken Westpac to court, accusing the bank of failing to respond to customers that filed financial hardship notices because of a problem with its online process.
In a lawsuit filed in federal court, the Australian Securities & Investments Commission says that between 2015 and 2022 Westpac breached the National Credit Code by failing to respond to 229 customer hardship notices within the required timeframe of 21 days.
All of these customers told Westpac they were experiencing financial hardship. Many also told Westpac about their difficult circumstances and vulnerabilities, including their inability to work, the impacts of serious medical conditions or their carer responsibilities.
In some cases, customers endured debt collection activities by Westpac while waiting for the bank to respond to their hardship notices.
The bank failed to respond to the notices because of a "deficiency" with its online lodging system that meant the customer assistance team did not see the notices.
ASIC claims Westpac did not do enough to investigate and rectify the systems issues and is seeking declarations, pecuniary penalties and adverse publicity orders.
The bank has acknowledged the "technology failure," with CIO Scott Collary saying: “This error meant we didn’t provide some of our customers with the help they needed. For this, we are deeply sorry.
“While we have assisted some of these customers in subsequent contact, it is not good enough that we missed their initial attempt to get in touch."