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MPs accuse BT of “blackmail”

UK incumbent British Telecom has been accused of “financial blackmail” by Members of Parliament (MPs) for charges on customers who do not pay their telephony bills by direct debit.

35 MPs have signed a Commons motion regarding the levy which David Hamilton, Labour MP for Midlothian, is leading. The motion urges BT – which made £1.4bn profit in Q4 06 – to “review the charge immediately”.

The motion “acknowledges that these forms for payment may save BT some administrative costs but that consumers deserve to be able to make a free choice about the method they use without financial blackmail”. From May, customers who do not pay by direct debit will be charged £4.50 per quarter.

According to the MPs, only 92 per cent of UK households have bank accounts and “these charges would penalise the poorest more than other groups”.

In a statement to Telecoms.com, BT’s chief operating officer at BT Retail, John Petter, said: “We are replacing an existing discount with a charge, which results in a 50p a month decrease for some customers and a 50p increase for others. The charge will not apply to customers on our Light User and In Contact Plus social telephone schemes.”

However, when pressed a spokesman for BT conceded that despite the “decrease”, customers who do not pay by direct debit will indeed pay an extra 50p every month, or £6 a year.

Asked if that was fair, the spokesman said: “Yes, it is fair because it reflects the extra cost in processing those [non-direct debit] payments.”

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