Home Estate Planning BT heads to court to fight £1.3bn class action

BT heads to court to fight £1.3bn class action

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Telecoms giant BT is set to appear in court today as it faces a £1.3bn class action over allegations it has “disproportionately overcharged” its landline customers, many of whom are elderly.

The case begins today at the Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT) on behalf of over 3 million customers with consumer champion Justin Le Patourel lending his name as the claimants representative.

The claim alleges that BT charged excessive prices regarding “standalone” fixed voice services, notably for older customers, and that this constituted an abuse of a dominant position.

The claimants did note that more than 500,000 of the customers who only had a landline phone have already passed away. However, if the case is successful, the estates of these deceased individuals will be able to apply for compensation.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is also down as an intervener but it has no vested interest in the facts of the case.

The proceedings were certified in October 2021 but BT appealed, which was the first of its kind, dealing specifically with the CAT’s approach to certifying collective proceedings as opt-out rather than opt in.

This case will be highly significant in the legal sector as it is the first case to progress to trial since the collective proceedings regime was introduced in 2015. The case is expected to test how the CAT determines awards of aggregate damages in collective proceedings.

The claimants have City law firm Mishcon de Reya partner Sarah Houghton and managing associate Gwen
Ballin-Reeler while BT has instructed Simmons & Simmons partners Patrick Boylan and Satyen Dhana.

The trial is likely to last eight weeks.

Le Patourel said: “Time really is of the essence. More than 40 per cent of our claimants are aged over 70, and over 150 of them are dying every day. It really is vital that BT should refund every one of them as soon as possible.” 

The spokesperson for BT told City A.M.: “We take our responsibilities to our customers very seriously and are dedicated to keeping our customers connected, while helping those who need it most. This claim relates to a technical landline pricing issue which was resolved by Ofcom in 2017. We do not accept that our pricing was anti-competitive back then, and are committed to robustly defending our position at trial.”

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