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BT Granted Permission to Appeal Landline Overcharging Ruling UPDATE

Friday, November 19th, 2021 (4:22 pm) - Score 2,112
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The UK Court of Appeal (CoA) has granted broadband ISP BT permission to try to appeal the Competition Appeals Tribunal‘s (CAT) judgement, which last month rejected the operator’s attempt to stop a £600m class action claim against them – related to the alleged overcharging of 2.3 million landline-only phone customers.

The class action claim – see previous article for details – relates to the retrospective allegation that BT were overcharging around 2.3 million landline-only customers between 2015 and 2018 (the rules prevent this being backdated even further). The case is also seeking compensation for customers who took both a broadband service and a BT landline, albeit not together as a bundle (i.e. customers paid more for the individual services).

NOTE: The case is being pushed by Justin Le Patourel, who is the founder of related consumer group CALL (Collective Action on Land Lines).

The CAT initially chose to unanimously reject BT’s opposition to the overcharging case, thus allowing it to proceed to trial. The decision also allowed all affected customers – each of which could receive up to £500 in compensation if BT were to lose at trial – to be automatically represented.

At a hearing on 19th October 2021, BT requested permission to appeal the CAT’s judgement, but their request was rejected. As a result, the operator then sought permission from the Court of Appeal to pursue an appeal, and this time they’ve been successful. The case cannot proceed to trial until this stage is settled.

Justin Le Patourel said:

“I note that the Court has granted BT permission to attempt an appeal on the basis that issues of practice and procedure are important and could have implications for other cases. However, I remain confident that our case – which is that BT overcharged landline customers, many of whom were elderly and vulnerable, over the course of several years – is very strong.

I hope we can resolve this appeal and move to full trial as quickly as possible.”

We have asked BT for a comment and will update again once they respond.

UPDATE 20th November 2021

We haven’t had a response from BT yet (the weekend has probably put pay to that), but we do have a few more details on the grounds for BT’s appeal. BT sought permission to appeal on three grounds. The CoA agreed to allow the appeal to proceed on all three grounds on the basis that they are important issues of practice and procedure, which will have implications for other cases.

BT’s first ground was that, in permitting the Collective Proceedings to proceed on an opt-out basis rather than an opt-in basis, the Tribunal has misdirected itself in law as to the correct interpretation of Rule 79(3) of the Competition Appeal Tribunal (“CAT”) Rules 2015 (Judgment, paragraphs 110-125). On this ground the Court of appeal said: “the ground raises issues as to the breadth of the CAT’s discretion and the weight to be attached to the CAT Guide and as to implications of the expression “general preference” in light of the policy considerations which underpin opt in and opt out proceedings.”

However, the CoA made clear that, on appeal, BT would need to show “why in the circumstances of the case the challenge can properly be said to raise issues of law and why, if not, the Court of Appeal should interfere with the CAT’s discretion“.

BT’s second ground was that the CAT had exceeded its jurisdiction in ordering an account credit. The CoA considered that this issue had a broader significance as to the nature and extent of the CAT’s powers, however it did not see how this was materially relevant to the CAT’s decision against BT.

BT’s third ground was that the CAT erred in concluding that the strength of the proposed claims could only be of relevance to the opt-in versus opt-out issue if BT could show that they were “very weak,” even if they surmounted the summary judgement/strike-out threshold. In relation to this, the CoA said: “I do not consider this ground to be especially strong. Nonetheless, I would not prevent it being raised on the appeal given the wider significance of the test“.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
Leave a Comment
3 Responses
  1. Jon says:

    So BT basically trying to lower the potential amount and make it harder for those effected in claiming and getting money back?

  2. Matt says:

    Not followed this too closely so I could be wrong but to me over charge would imply charged more than agreed with the customer. For example been told £30 a month and then been charged £35 a Month. The case sounds more like could have had a better deal if had asked for one or price too high vs other products.

  3. R WILSON says:

    My wife who is a disabled and classed as a vulnerable person due to a stroke, ordered BT Broadband in 2016, this was a Direct Debit payment transacton, she was not made aware it was a 12 months BT contract which when expired they would double the price. She thought she was paying £23 pm for broadband, but paid around £48 pm, and overcharged around £1000. When she discovered this she was told if she had contested the charges earlier she could have stopped (reduced) this overcharging, she thought the extra amounts paid must be for extra telephone calls, any advice or knowledge about this matter would be useful and welcome. She cannot afford to lose a £1000, elderly and on benefits person, she has heard thousands have been swindled by BT in the same manner. There was no contract or agreement or acceptance of the increased charges and she was not notified of the increased prices.

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