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BT faces £600m claim in overcharging case

Written by: Emma Lunn
Almost 2.5 million BT customers could receive compensation of up to £500 each after the courts approved a bid to launch a class action over claims the telecoms giant overcharged customers for landlines.

Earlier this year, Justin Le Patourel, founder of CALL (Collective Action on Land Lines), advised by law firm Mishcon de Reya, launched Justin Le Patourel v BT Group Plc and British Telecommunications Plc in the Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT).

The action relates to BT customers who only had a landline from BT, without broadband or another service, from October 2015.

The claim is based on conclusions made by Ofcom as part of a 2017 review which found that BT had significant market power, was a price-leader, and was overcharging ‘standalone’ landline customers for line rental services.

As a result of Ofcom’s investigation, BT agreed to reduce its line rental price by £7 per month for some of its customers. However, BT didn’t offer to compensate its customers for its past wrongdoing, meaning some landline customers are still out of pocket.

Under the UK’s competition regime, anyone wishing to bring a class action on behalf of customers (and/or businesses) must first secure approval from the CAT. Le Patourel’s application was heard by the tribunal in a two-day hearing from 24 to 25 June 2021.

BT argued that the claims were not suitable to be brought in collective proceedings – or ‘class actions’. However, the tribunal has now granted Le Patourel permission to bring the claim on behalf of two types of BT customer.

The first group is ‘voice only’ customers who had a BT landline service between October 2015 and April 2018, but didn’t have broadband from any provider. The second group is ‘split purchase’ customers, who had a BT landline service and broadband at any time since October 2015, but who didn’t ‘bundle’ these services together into a single, discounted package.

All affected customers will be automatically represented, and don’t need to take any steps to join the action. Customers can however choose to opt out if they wish.

In the next step, the case will proceed to full trial and, if successful, 2.31 million BT customers could receive up to £500 each in compensation.

Le Patourel said: “We believe that BT has been overcharging millions of its most loyal customers for years. We are thrilled that this decision will bring us one step closer to putting right this injustice.

“We think that these customers could be entitled to a substantial repayment of up to £500 each. This decision is a great step in the right direction and we look forward to the full trial, where we will continue fighting for BTs loyal and mistreated customers.”

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