Even though a recent study showed that consumer complaints were on the decline – although Bell was the worst with customer complaints – a class action suit was filed against Bell by Celia Sankar in 2012. However, it ended up being supported by a million Bell, Virgin Mobile and Solo prepaid customers, all who lost their remaining balance on their prepaid card because they did not “top up” before the end of its “active period.” Bell’s practice was to claim the unused funds the day after the end of the active period – for example, if the active period ended on June 30, then on July 1, the funds would be claimed by Bell. The case was based on the customers believing that Bell’s prepaid card system was unlawful and a way for Bell to get extra money from their customers, but the Ontario Court of Appeals dismissed the $200 million class action suit on April 4.
The case went before the Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice in January 2015 when she claimed the contract provided that Bell had to wait two days after the active period to reclaim the funds, not the first day. She also alleged that Bell claimed the funds improperly because Ontario legislation forbids expiry dates on prepaid phone cards. The judge argued that Bell did not breach its contract and that the gift card regulations she referred too, did not apply to prepaid phone cards. He ruled in Bell’s favor and dismissed the class action, and an appeal was filed in March 2015.
The court was very sympathetic with the plaintiffs – stating that consumers may find themselves in situations where they cannot add money to their cards before the expiration date or use the credit before it expires. The courts documents state, “They may also find themselves on a merry-go-round they cannot get off, because they must constantly top up an account with a credit balance, because they have not used up all their credits from the previous active period. Depending on one’s perspective, that may be unfair or it may be part of the price paid for the flexibility of a prepaid phone card.” They decided that it was unfair to expect service providers to carry unused minutes for an indefinite period. In November 2013, Bell amended its “top-up” agreements to reflect a seven-day grace period due to the CRTC’s decision – the watchdog for the Canadian consumer. On the class action suit’s website, it says it is “reviewing the decision to determine whether to seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.”