The operator’s attempt to have the claim dismissed has fallen on deaf ears, with the Court of Appeal (CoA) upholding the previous ruling by the Competition Appeals Tribunal (CAT)
Back in September 2021, law firm Mishcon de Reya initiated a claim against BT on behalf of Justin Le Patourel, the founder of consumer activist group Collective Action on Land Lines (CALL).
The claim is based upon Ofcom’s 2016/17 market review, which found that landline-only customers were getting worse value for money than those who purchased bundled services that included broadband and/or pay-TV. The review also showed that customer bills for line rental had increased substantially since 2009, while BT’s own wholesale costs had fallen.
Following the publication of this review, BT responded in 2018 by cutting their line rental charge for roughly 900,000 vulnerable landline-only customers and capping future price increases to the rate of inflation. However, BT did not refund the roughly 2.3 million customers previously affected by pricing situation.
As a result, CALL was formed to claim that BT had overcharged their landline-only customers between 2015 and 2018. The class action lawsuit seeks compensation of up to £500 each for those affected, with a potential pay out for BT of around £600 million.
BT initially raised their opposition to the lawsuit with the CAT, but this appeal was rejected, with the CAT saying they would allow the case to go to trial. The operator tried to appeal this ruling immediately with the CAT itself but was denied.
Thus, by November BT had instead raised its opposition to the case with the CoA, which they found to be more receptive, allowing the appeals process to proceed. BT would argue that the claim from CALL should have been brought on an ‘opt-in’ basis, rather than the ‘opt-out’ basis currently being posited.
Now, following the hearing in March this year, the CoA has rejected this appeal too.
“I am grateful that the Court of Appeal has found in our favour 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,” said Le Patourel. “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.”
BT, for their part, say that they are disappointed in the decision and will continue to fight the legal case brought against them.
“We strongly disagree with the speculative claim being brought against us,” said the company in a statement, pledging to “vigorously defend itself”.
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