BT has been accused of imposing stealth charges on retailers which could net the operator £5m from the news and convenience channel alone. By Ed Chadwick

Retailers have been sent a letter, pictured, telling them that they will be charged £30.72 a quarter – or £122.88 a year – for inclusion in the classified section of forthcoming editions of the BT phone book unless they call or log on to BT’s website to opt out of the directory within a month.

Listings in the section have previously been free and BT says it is introducing the charge to make the section “more effective”.

[pull_quote_right]I can’t see any justification for introducing the charges and certainly not for forcing us to opt out rather than opting in[/pull_quote_right]

Edinburgh retailer Abdul Qadar alerted RN to the letter and said could easily be mistaken for a circular by retailers who would be left out of pocket.

“It’s no different to the gas and electric contract rollovers, which the whole industry has campaigned hard to abolish,” he said.

“I can’t see any justification for introducing the charges and certainly not for forcing us to opt out rather than opting in.”

When challenged by RN, BT refused to say how many letters it was sending out to small businesses because the figures were “commercially sensitive”.

A spokesman said: “BT has taken an opt out approach to avoid the significant risk with an opt in approach that the customer misses a letter leaving no option but to wait a full year to get their entry into the next phone book.

“Our opt out policy will be applied in a reasonable manner with opt outs accepted after the four week period outlined in the letter prior to the publication of the Phonebook so no business will lose out.”

NFRN chief executive Paul Baxter said: “I would advise retailers to think long and hard about paying to put their phone number into such an outdated form of media.”

Click the letter to read