Westpac wins debit card dispute

Westpac’s decision to issue 900,000 new debit cards to customers who did not ask for them has been backed by the Federal Court.

The bank issued the cards as replacements for customers’ existing Handycard debit cards, yet the Australian Securities & Investments Commission (ASIC) had expressed concern that the action was a breach of the ASIC Act.

ASIC said that the card was not a direct replacement but rather that it could be used more freely than the Handycard because it does not require a PIN and can be used over the phone or internet.

However, Judge Steven Rares ruled in favour of Westpac, saying that withdrawing funds from a customer’s account was the defining characteristic of both cards.

"It was not the intention of the act to constrain the relationship between an issuer of a card and its customer by preventing the issuer updating the particular kind of card with the latest version of that kind of card," he wrote in his judgment.

The ruling will add further encouragement to those who decide to compare debit cards in search of the best deals. The Australian recently reported that shoppers were being encouraged to spend big this Christmas as retailers compete for Aussie dollars with a range of extravagant discount offers.

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