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Competition Team obtains judgment in opt-out collective action claim against BT Group Limited

Posted on 28 September 2021

The Competition Appeal Tribunal has approved a bid to launch a £600 million class action compensation claim against BT on behalf of over 2 million customers that it allegedly overcharged.

Justin Le Patourel, a leading telecoms switching expert and founder of CALL (Collective Action on Land Lines), can now bring the landmark case to recover hundreds of pounds for BT landline-only customers, many of whom are older and from low-income households.

In 2017, Ofcom investigated BT and discovered that it had been overcharging its landline customers. Although the costs of providing landlines had been falling since 2009, BT continued to put up its prices. BT agreed with Ofcom to reduce the future bills of these neglected customers, but it did not compensate them for past overcharging.

In response, earlier this year, Justin Le Patourel launched Justin Le Patourel v BT Group Plc and British Telecommunications Plc in the Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT). The action sought compensation for the historic overcharges and for individuals who were excluded from BT's voluntary reduction.

Under the UK's competition regime, a person wishing to bring a class action on behalf of customers (and/or businesses) must first secure approval from the CAT. Le Patourel's application was heard by the Tribunal in a two-day hearing from 24 to 25 June 2021.

BT argued that the claims were not suitable to be brought in collective proceedings, often known as class actions. However, the Tribunal has granted Le Patourel permission to bring the claim on behalf of the following BT customers:

"Voice Only Customers"

Who had a BT landline service between October 2015 and April 2018, but did not also receive a broadband service (from BT or any other provider).

"Split Purchase Customers"

Who had a BT landline service alongside a broadband service (from BT or another provider) at any time since October 2015, but who did not 'bundle' these services together into a single, discounted package.

All affected customers will automatically be represented, and therefore do not need to take any steps to join the action, but may opt out if they wish.

In its judgment, available here, the Tribunal notes "[Mr Le Patourel's] application for a CPO succeeds [..]. This Judgment is unanimous".

In the next step, the case will proceed to full trial and, if successful, the 2.31 million BT customers who are believed to have been overcharged could receive up to £500 each in compensation.

Le Patourel said, “We believe that BT has been overcharging millions of its most loyal customers for years. We are thrilled that this decision will bring us one step closer to putting right this injustice. We think that these customers could be entitled to a substantial repayment of up to £500 each. This decision is a great step in the right direction and we look forward to the full trial, where we will continue fighting for BTs loyal and mistreated customers.” 

Justin Le Patourel and the consumer group CALL are being advised by Mishcon de Reya, with funding from Harbour.  

Partner Rob Murray, said, “The claims clearly connected with the Tribunal which dismissed every argument made by BT to try and prevent them proceeding. This is the first case to be certified on all of the terms proposed by the Class Representative. In addition, we are grateful for the Tribunal for already having fixed a hearing on 19 October to decide consequential issues and move the claims forward efficiently.”

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