BT banned from 'saving' customers

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The Independent Online

Rivals of BT Group were celebrating last night after the telecoms group was found to have unlawfully misused confidential customer information to try to stop its customers leaving for competitors.

The ruling was made by the Competition Appeal Tribunal after hearing a case detailing how BT's network arm would habitually inform its retail division of customers' plans to leave. This allowed BT Retail to try to "save" the customer.

In November last year Oftel, the then regulator, ordered BT to stop the practice but BT appealed. Yesterday its case was thrown out.

Bill Allan, the chief executive of Thus, said: "The dismissal of BT's appeal vindicates our complaint and the regulator's original decision, and reinforces the need for continued regulatory vigilance in the UK telecoms market."

BT said it was pleased that what it described as "an issue of legal interpretation" had been resolved. It said it had ceased the practice last November when the complaint was first lodged.

BT's tone yesterday was markedly different from 12 months ago when Oftel made its first judgement. Then, Pierre Danon, the chief executive of BT Retail, said Oftel's decision was "ill-conceived" and would cause "widespread confusion".

At the time Mr Danon said: "This decision makes no sense for the customer.... Oftel should be concentrating on achieving greater discipline within the industry rather than removing an important means of customer protection. The potential impact on customers cannot be underestimated."

The new telecoms regulator Ofcom will allow BT to intervene in customer switching where it can show an order to switch has been placed without a consumer's permission. However, even this level of intervention is currently under review by Ofcom, which is expected to tighten up the rules governing when BT can intervene.

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