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BT to face tribunal over £600m ‘overcharging’ lawsuit

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Today, BT is due to face the Competition Appeals Tribunal (CAT) over a lawsuit being brought against them for reportedly overcharging its customers.

The landmark £600 million lawsuit was launched against the UK incumbent telco in January 2021, by Justin Le Patourel, a telecoms consultant and former Ofcom executive for 13 years. 

Le Patourel, a representative of CALL (Collective Action on Landlines) is seeking compensation for BT customers who overpaid for landlines and follows an earlier report by Ofcom who in 2017 found that BT had been overcharging millions of its landline customers as of 2009.

Specifically, in 2009 the wholesale cost of landlines was falling, but BT continued to increase its prices. At the time of the Ofcom discovery BT did agree to lower its prices, but no compensation for those who had already been overcharged had been made.

“This landmark case affects millions of older and poorer BT customers. We are asking the Competition Appeals Tribunal to allow me bring this case on their behalf,” said Le Patourel.

“The speed of this hearing suggests the Competition Appeals Tribunal is aware of the significance 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.”

At the time, BT released a statement saying it “strongly disagreed” with the claim being brought against it.

“We take our responsibilities to older and more vulnerable customers very seriously and will defend ourselves against any claim that suggests otherwise,” the company said.

“For many years we’ve offered discounted landline and broadband pack2ages in what is a competitive market and take pride in our work with elderly and vulnerable groups, as well as our work on the Customer Fairness agenda. We continue to offer a variety of packages to support our customers through the pandemic.”

As for today’s hearing with the CAT, it will determine which claimants will be included in the class and who will be certified to represent them. They will also consider whether the representatives of the estates of those who have died since the initial Ofcom judgement in 2017 can be included in the claim.

Should Le Patourel be certified to represent all claimants, the case will go to full trial and should he win, up to 2.31 million customers who took a landline from BT but did not bundle this with a broadband service, could receive up to £500 compensation each.

Le Patourel and CALL are being advised by UK law firm, Mishcon de Reya in this case.

“Ofcom found that BT had been overcharging its standalone landline customers and so BT agreed to reduce its line rental by £7 per month from 2018. But it did not offer compensation for overcharging that took place prior to this, meaning that many customers are still out of pocket,” said Rob Murray, partner at Mishcon de Reya.

“Moreover, BT knows that many of these people are older, poorer and more vulnerable. Many have unfortunately passed away since they were overcharged. This case will help to put matters right between BT and its loyal landline customers.” 

As of Friday 24 June, BT released an updated statement saying that it "will defend itself vigorously against a class action claim being brought by law firm Mishcon de Reya, which accuses BT of anti-competitive behaviour towards its pre-existing landline customers" and that it "regrets being drawn into litigation on a topic which Ofcom considered more than three years ago". 

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