As if today, BT, a prominent telecommunications operator, is expected to appear before the Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT) in London. The operator faces a class action lawsuit, alleging that it has unreasonably overpriced its traditional landline customers. More than three million claimants have rallied behind this case. They are accusing BT of misusing its dominant market position to set soaring prices.
This case originates from a 2016/7 Ofcom market review, which concluded that customers who opted for landline-only services received a less favourable value for money compared to those who chose broadband and/or pay-TV bundles. In 2018, BT agreed to reduce its prices. However, in 2021, the class action lawsuit took off to secure compensation for customers who were impacted. The scope of the lawsuit later expanded to incorporate BT clients who were billed separately for landline and broadband services, and therefore, were disadvantaged compared to customers that purchased bundles.
BT continues to reject any notion that its pricing during that period was “anti-competitive”. An appeal was launched, but in May 2022, the CAT dismissed this appeal and permitted the case to advance to trial.
This litigation is a first of its kind. Following changes to the law in 2015 that allowed collective legal action against competition law breaches, this is the first-ever class action lawsuit to reach trial. Each individual claimant is seeking compensation in the range of £300-£400.
“Time really is of the essence,” said lead claimant representative Justin Le Patourel. “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.”
Despite the allegations, BT remains steadfast, maintaining their innocence and preparing to vigourously defend itself in court.
“We take our responsibilities to our customers very seriously and are dedicated to keeping our customers connected, while helping those who need it most,” was the official statement from a BT representative. “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.”