Appeal Court dials up £600m BT landline class action

call oldieBT is facing a £600m class action case over the alleged overcharging of 2.3 million landline-only customers after losing the latest round in a protracted legal battle, which has been raging even before the case comes to trial.

The class action claim has been brought by a group called the Collective Action on Land Lines (CALL) founded by former Ofcom consultant Justin Le Patourel and represented by law firm Mischon de Reya.

It stems from Ofcom’s 2016/17 review which found that landline-only customers had been overcharged compared to those who bought bundles of landline, broadband and/or pay-TV services. The majority of these customers were vulnerable, older consumers.

The Competition Appeals Tribunal ruled in favour of the claimants last September, allowing it to proceed to trial. The decision also allowed all affected customers – each in line for a £500 payout if BT loses – to be automatically represented.

BT then took its case to the Court of Appeal, arguing that the claim should have been brought on an “opt-in” basis, meaning that anyone wanting to join the claim would have to take active steps to join the claim.

Le Patourel disputed this, “highlighting the low levels of likely engagement with such a process, and the cost and time of signing each individual Class Member up to the claim”.

The court ruled in favour of Le Patourel, who said: “I am grateful that the Court of Appeal and we can now proceed to a full trial. Asking people to sign up to legal process which they don’t understand, and which has an uncertain outcome, would almost certainly have led to low levels of engagement. This would have made it impossible to secure redress for those affected.

“Our case, that BT overcharged landline customers, many of whom were elderly and vulnerable, over the course of several years, is very strong. I look forward to progressing this claim as quickly as possible.”

A BT spokesperson responded: “We strongly disagree with the speculative claim being brought against us. We take our responsibilities to customers very seriously and will defend ourselves against any claim that suggests otherwise.

“We take pride in our work on the Customer Fairness agenda. For many years we’ve offered a discounted social tariff in what is a competitive market with competing options available, and, last year we extended that to help a potential four million households on low incomes save on bills and stay connected to vital services now available to access online, on the phone or via our nationwide retail stores.

“We assure our customers that we will not let this claim disrupt the relationship BT has with them.”

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