BT trial: consumer group takes on telecoms giant in £1.3 billion compensation case

BT is accused of overcharging 3m landline customers as the first of its kind collective action trial begins

The trial against BT begins today. Justin Le Patourel, founder of consumer group Collective Action on Landlines (CALL), is fronting the class action claim against BT for £1.3 billion in compensation for more than three million landline customers.

Le Patourel, a telecoms consumer rights expert who has worked for the UK communications regulator Ofcom, said: 

‘We believe BT has been systematically overcharging millions of customers over many  years, and those customers could be owed hundreds of pounds each.’

BT landline customers could be in line for a £300 to £400 compensation payout if the case is won and they had a landline between October 2015 and April 2018 or if they had separate landline and broadband contracts, not part of a bundle, from October 2015 to December 2023.

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Older lady on a landline phone due BT compensation.

Landmark case for UK collective action regime

This is the first of its kind collective action case to reach trial since the Consumer Rights Act 2015 allowed collective legal actions to be brought over alleged breaches of competition law.

Le Patourel said: ‘This is a landmark case for the UK Justice system. It is the first class action to go to court under the new regime set up through the Consumer Rights Act in 2015. This legislation made it easier to bring claims on behalf of large numbers of customers, who are included automatically unless they choose to opt out.’ 

Other competition-based collective action lawsuits are also set to go to trial, including claims against Apple, Google, Mastercard and Sony. And there are a growing number of group claims waiting in the wings to be certified by the UK competition court.

BT accused of unfairly raising its prices for landline customers

BT is accused of overcharging its landline customers, many of whom are older and more vulnerable.

BT was taken to task for overcharging its landline customers by Ofcom in 2017. The regulator found that BT had continued to put up its prices although the costs of providing landlines had been falling since 2009.

BT agreed in 2018 to cut future prices by £7 a month but Le Patourel argues it did not compensate customers for the excessive prices they had already paid.

BT customers affected by this compensation claim

The case against BT says that around 1.5 million BT landline-only customers between October 2015 and April 2018 could be in line for a compensation payout. The Ofcom investigation estimated that these customers were overcharged £84.  

Around 2 million BT customers who had separate landline and broadband contracts between October 2015 and December 2023 are also said to have been affected. Le Patourel is arguing that these customers paid substantially more than people who bought the same services as a single discounted bundle.

More than half a million of BT’s landline customers affected by this claim have died without receiving compensation. Le Patourel said: ‘Time really is of the essence. More than 40% 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.’

If the case is successful, the estates of BT customers who have died will be able to apply for compensation.

BT does not accept pricing was anti-competitive

BT said the claim related to a ‘technical landline pricing issue’ that was ‘resolved by Ofcom in 2017’. ‘We do not accept that our pricing was anti-competitive back then, and as such are committed to robustly defending our position at trial,’ a BT spokesperson said.   

The trial is set to last 8 weeks. Le Patourel is represented by law firm Mishcon de Reya.

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