BT and other phone companies could be hit by a tidal wave of legal action from disgruntled customers if proposals to simplify the complaint process are adopted.
Telecoms watchdog Oftel this week proposed appointing an independent arbitrator to deal with customers' legal disputes with their fixed line phone operators.
The move, already common practice in other industries such as pensions and banking, would make it much cheaper and easier for customers to pursue compensation from their phone company, according to Oftel.
Currently customers have to take their telecom operator to court to pursue claims for compensation if they can't resolve the dispute between themselves. Under the proposed system, customers would pay around £15 to £20 towards the cost of the case, which would be refunded if they won.
"These are much cheaper in practise than going to court," said Dai Davis at IT lawyer Nabarro Nathanson.
Oftel said the arbitration process would only apply for disputes about phone bills, itemised billing, directory services and terms and conditions of their service.
Customers and operators are also encouraged to try to settle the dispute before using the arbitration.
"The procedures will not be invoked at the drop of a hat," said Oftel director general David Edmonds.
"Before arbitration all the parties involved should have made efforts to solve the problem. Asking customers to pay a fixed cost towards the case should provide a reasonable balance between discouraging frivolous claims and enabling those with a very serious dispute to use the arbitration procedure rather than having recourse to legal action," said Edmonds.
RISC OS 5 to form the basis of RISC OS Open after Castle Technology sells to RISC OS Developments
A smartphone maker fiddling its benchmarking scores? That's unusual, isn't it?
'We are making good progress on 10nm,' claims Intel
Engineer calculates that Chengdu's plan to replace streetlights with artificial moonlight would cost $100bn