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Competition Tribunal rules against BT 'save' calls

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BT has been fingered for using "dirty tricks" to try and hang on to customers who want to leave the telco for another phone operator. In the past, it called customers who wanted to leave BT to ensure that they were aware of the services on offer.

BT said part of the reason behind the "save call" was to ensure that customers had not been the victims of mis-selling or "slamming". Rival telcos said BT used the call to sweet-talk customers into staying with the telco.

However, a ruling today by the Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT) supported earlier findings which found that BT had "unlawfully misused confidential customer information for marketing purposes".

Bill Allan, chief exec of Thus and one of the companies that made the complaint, said: "The dismissal of BT's appeal by the Tribunal vindicates our complaint and the Regulator's original decision, and reinforces the need for continued regulatory vigilance in the UK telecommunications market."

In November 2003, telecoms regulator Oftel upheld a complaint from Thus and Broadsystem Ventures Ltd (BVL), preventing BT from using information about the transfer of customers to alternative telecoms suppliers such as One.Tel, Tiscali and Tele2. Oftel found that BT - which was calling customers who had decided to move to rival operators - was using this information to try to persuade punters to stay with the company.

At the time, Oftel said: "Until now, BT has passed this [transfer] information to its marketing department, which has then contacted the customer to try and persuade them to stay with BT. Oftel has today ordered BT to stop carrying out this practice, on the grounds that it is forbidden under the new EU Access and Interconnection Directive that came into force in the UK in July 2003."

Thus welcomed Oftel's statement on "BT Dirty Tricks" but in January 2004, BT appealed the decision with the Competition Appeals Tribunal (CAT), the UK's highest specialist competition law court.

BT described Oftel's decision as an "ill-conceived move that will cause widespread confusion for customers". It warned that unless BT is able to contact customers, it could open the floodgates for 'slamming', a process where customers are switched phone providers without their knowledge or consent.

A spokesman for BT said today: "We stopped used the "save calls" in December 2003 - we just wanted legal clarification" ®

Related stories

BT ordered to stop dirty tricks
BT appeals dirty tricks banning order
Tele2 slams BT over switching claims

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