More than 10 million BT customers face having to move onto more expensive tariffs after the phone giant announced it is changing the start time of its evening off-peak period.
The move will affect the 4.7 million people signed up to BT’s Evening & Weekend plan, who currently enjoy free phone calls from 6pm each evening, and the 8.5 million people on its Weekend plan who can talk for free from 6pm on Friday evening until 6am on Monday morning.
However, from 1 April, BT will shift the start time of its off-peak period from 6pm to 7pm. Meanwhile, its peak period will start at 7am rather than 6am.
This means that anyone who wants to make a phone call between 6am and 7pm will now have to pay 5.9p per minute to do so – despite previously being able to do this for free.
If they wanted to chat for the full hour, then from April they’ll have to pay £3.54 – this would add up to £80 to their quarterly bill.
BT argues that anyone who wants to chat for an hour, every day, between 6pm and 7pm is simply not on the correct plan for their needs.
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"Although 6pm is a busy time for short, organisational calls, the peak hour to settle down for a longer chat is between 8pm-9pm," it told Moneywise. "If customers feel the new times will not suit their calling patterns, we would be happy to discuss whether they would be better off on one of our inclusive calling packages, which customers are increasingly favouring."
BT has written to affected customers, suggesting they move from its Evening & Weekend plan (which currently costs just £2.99 a month) to its Anytime Plan (which is more costly at £4.99 a month).
The Anytime Plan offers free calls to UK landlines at any time. Plus, BT is currently offering the first three months completely free.
Around 18 months ago, BT offered its Evening & Weekend plan to customers for free as long as they signed a 12-month contract. Some 3.6 million people have signed up to this plan in the last 12 months.
If BT customers do decide to take the provider’s advice and move onto its Anytime package, they will have to sign up to another 12-month contract.
BT isn’t breaking any laws by changing its contract.
In a statement, it says: “We are at liberty to vary the terms of our contract with our customers, provided we give customers with at least a month's notice when we change our terms to a customer's disadvantage. All customers will be informed of the changes, which take effect on 1 April, by the end of February, clearly fulfilling our obligations in this regard.”
It adds: "If an individual customer feels that these changes will put them at a significant disadvantage, then we have provisions in our contract that address that situation. Customers should get in touch with us to discuss their individual situation."
For more information on the changes, contact BT on its customer service number - 0800 800 150.