Karlsruhe (dpa) – Savers have long since got used to the fact that there is almost no interest. For many thousands of premium savers with old contracts, the interest rates were unlawfully capped too much.
They are actually entitled to additional payments, but the road to get there is rocky. Consumer advocates are now trying to put pressure on with model declaratory actions. The Federal Court of Justice (BGH) in Karlsruhe has now decided on the first of them. Still, questions remain unanswered. (Ref. XI ZR 234 / 20)
What is it exactly?
In many premium savings contracts that were concluded in the 1990 and 2000 years, there are clauses that allowed the money house to adjust the interest rate unilaterally almost at will. The BGH was about the Stadt- und Kreissparkasse Leipzig. There it says in the old forms, for example, that the savings deposit is “subject to variable interest”. The interest rate changes when the notice in the cash register is renewed.
Why is that problematic?
At that time, a lucrative interest rate was nothing special, but in the low interest rate phase they have Credit institutions only adjusted in one direction: downwards – partly to 0, 01 or 0, 001 Percent. In the case of long-term contracts, savers can expect “a certain degree of calculability of the possible changes in benefits”, as the BGH has already decided 2004. Clauses that leave the banks and savings banks completely free are unreasonable and therefore ineffective. In two judgments by 2010, the BGH also made very specific guidelines on how to find a solution in such a case that also takes the interests of savers into account.
Why are there still disputes and lawsuits today?
Consumer advocates accuse the savings banks, whose domain was the premium savings model, of playing for time. Often, additional payments are only made at the insistence of persistent customers – and then by no means everything. “Because there is a lot of money involved,” says Michael Hummel from the consumer center in Saxony. For the model lawsuit against Leipziger Sparkasse, his team calculated how much interest the savers involved would still be entitled to – and came to an average of 3100 euros. Hummel estimates that there are billions in claims across the industry. But more and more premium savings contracts are expiring or being terminated, the claims of customers threaten to expire.
What role do the model lawsuits play?
With the 2018 The newly introduced model declaratory action can be enforced by the consumer advice centers in a single procedure for many of those affected. That also makes it easier to reach fundamental judgments. At the moment, the consumer advice centers are conducting nine sample proceedings nationwide for back interest payments. It is true that only those savers who have entered the respective complaint register can benefit directly from this. Hummel sees the savings banks as an obligation to approach all those affected.
What do the savings banks say?
The German Savings Banks and Giro Association (DSGV) represents in a statement from January the opinion that “the case law of the BGH of 2004 has since been appropriately implemented in the affected and later premium savings contracts”. The financial supervisory authority Bafin sees it differently: In June, it ultimately obliged the industry by general decree to inform all those affected and to make them an offer or an irrevocable commitment to additional payment. There is talk of a grievance: So far, many credit institutions have tacitly changed the old contracts themselves, disregarding BGH requirements – and not paying anything later.
What has the BGH decided now?
As hoped by the consumer advice center, this time the judges have given precise instructions on how the interest is to be calculated. The details are complicated, but this also ensures, among other things, that negative interest rates are not possible. And affected savers can now quantify their demands more specifically. However, the BGH has not commented on the important question of whether claims may have lapsed in the meantime. And the model case has not yet been completed: At the Dresden Higher Regional Court, an expert has to clarify which interest rate is to be used for orientation.
What happens next for savers?
The model plaintiffs may still face follow-up proceedings after a final judgment. Other affected premium savers who have not joined a model lawsuit would have to go to court themselves if their bank is not prepared to give in. A quick solution is not in sight even after the BGH ruling: More than 1100 credit institutions refuse to implement the general decree of the Bafin and have lodged an objection. Long legal disputes are threatened.