BT’s landline-only customers are awaiting the results of a tribunal hearing to see if a class action can go ahead over what campaigners claim is a £600m penalty paid for loyalty.
This week the Competition Appeal Tribunal heard an application from Justin Le Patourel and the consumer group Collective Action On Landlines (Call) to take a case on behalf of 2 million BT landline users.
The group claims that the customers, typically from older and low-income households, are owed compensation for payments before 2018 when BT reduced line rental charges by £7 a month.
The price cut followed a scathing review by the regulator, Ofcom, which highlighted the “poor value” for money landline-only subscribers got compared with those who bought bundles including TV and broadband.
The case was filed by Call in January and the hearing will decide if Le Patourel can represent customers in a class action case against the company.
Speaking before the hearing, Le Patoruel said: “The speed of this hearing suggests the Competition Appeal Tribunal is aware of the significance of this important class action. I am hopeful that I will be allowed to take the case forward, and to represent the millions of people I believe were ripped off by BT.”
Call claimed customers could receive compensation of up to £500 each if it wins a case. The case is being brought on an opt-out basis, which means that customers would be included in any action unless they choose to opt out, via the group’s website.
BT said it would “defend itself vigorously” against the claim and added that Ofcom’s final statement had “made no finding of excessive pricing or breach of competition law more generally”.
A BT spokesperson said: “We strongly disagree with the claim being brought against us.
“We take our responsibilities to customers very seriously and will defend ourselves against any claim that suggests otherwise.”
The spokesperson added that for many years the company has offered a discounted social tariff, and that it had this month extended it to help a potential 4 million households on low incomes save on bills.
“We assure our customers that we will not let this claim disrupt the relationship BT has with them. We will continue to support our customers through the pandemic and beyond.”
Rocio Concha, the director of policy and advocacy at the consumer group Which?, said: “Effective collective redress is something Which? has long campaigned for, and while no claim under the regime has reached a full trial yet, it is encouraging to see this case against BT progress, and hopefully be allowed to proceed to a full trial.
“If successful, this opt-out action would be good news for many BT customers who were found to have been historically overcharged for years but saw no refund as a result.”