Page last updated at 19:27 GMT, Friday, 28 March 2008

BT customer loses case on charges

Ros Fernihough
Ms Fernihough said she was considering an appeal

A solicitor has lost her case against BT over what she claimed were unfair charges for the five million customers who do not pay by direct debit.

Ros Fernihough, a BT customer since the 1960s, said the 4.50 a quarter charge penalised cash-paying customers.

But Walsall County Court heard that BT had given notice of the charges which were "fair" and "perfectly reasonable".

The case was dismissed after district judge Michael Ellery decided the telecoms giant had no case to answer.

Last March, Trading Standards described the charges as "outrageous" and "unjustified" but BT said it cost more to process non-direct debit payments and that those customers were also more likely to forget to pay.

'Clear judgement'

Several utility companies, including Orange and Virgin Media, apply charges to customers who choose not to pay by direct debit.

But Ms Fernihough, who brought the case under the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations of 1999, said although the charge was not high it was a serious drain for pensioners and those on a low income.

Mr Ellery said the charges were a "core term" of the contract between BT and its customers.

He said after considering arguments from both parties, he had decided to accept an application from BT for a summary judgement which meant the dismissal of the case.

"She had the option of either starting to pay by direct debit or incurring the charge or leaving BT," he said.

"She could do that without any loss or consequence."

But Ms Fernihough, from Sutton Coldfield, said other firms would now impose the charge on customers following the court judgement.

John Petit, of BT, said: "It was a very clear judgement. The charge is fair... the charge is vindicated."

Ms Fernihough said she was considering an appeal.

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