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UK: Cheaper broadband for struggling families

August 15, 2022

By Colin Mann

Broadband bills could be cut for millions of low-income households under UK Government plans to encourage ‘social tariffs’.

A new service, which will be run by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), will allow Internet service providers to verify – with customers’ permission – whether they are in receipt of a relevant benefit and therefore eligible for extra financial support.

The Government has called on all broadband providers to offer and promote social tariffs – discounted broadband and mobile deals for people on Universal Credit and other benefits – with statistics showing only 1.2 per cent of those eligible have taken advantage of such a package.

The scheme is already supported by multiplay telco Virgin Media O2 who, following discussions with Government, has announced that it will use the system to verify eligible customers signing up to its Essential Broadband tariff. The company will also waive early termination fees for those moving from existing tariffs.

Customers on social tariffs could in some cases save over a hundred pounds a year. The new system will also simplify the process by removing the need for customers to prove their entitlement to broadband providers as regularly as every month. Social tariffs are available to eligible customers in 99 per cent of the country following Government-led negotiations with broadband companies.

The Government’s Cost of Living Business Tsar, David Buttress, has welcomed the new scheme and committed to continue working with industry to scale up and promote existing social tariffs, as well as encourage all providers to offer a discounted tariff.

“Times are tough and families across the country are feeling the pinch, so we’re making it easier for companies to reduce phone and broadband bills for struggling families,” advised Buttress. “Some of the biggest network operators have already committed to take advantage of this new scheme and we want to see other providers follow their lead so that everyone eligible for a social tariff can access one. This is just one of the ways that we’re working with businesses to offer help through our Help for Households campaign, building on the comprehensive £37 billion package of support already being provided by Government.”

“It’s more important than ever that people get the financial support available to them, including cheaper broadband for benefit claimants, and this change makes these social tariffs even easier to access,” added Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Thérèse Coffey. “I’d like to thank those providers leading the way in moving customers over to discount rates, and I encourage others to follow suit to help millions of households to cut bills.”

“Social tariffs are vital for families struggling with bills, keeping them connected even in tough times,” asserted Digital Secretary Nadine Dorries. “Our discussion with broadband companies led to the range of social tariffs on the market today and we’ve secured a raft of new cost-of-living commitments from them to ensure help is available for anyone that needs it. I urge anyone concerned about falling behind on payments to contact their supplier to see what support is available.!

Internet service providers will be required to gain customers’ consent before speaking to DWP about their eligibility. DWP will minimise the information provided, sharing nothing other than confirmation that the person is entitled to a qualifying benefit at the time of contact. This ensures that claimants’ data remains as safe as possible.

“Connectivity is a lifeline people can’t go without, and as one of the first providers to have introduced a social broadband tariff in 2020, we are committed to making it as easy as possible for customers to get support with the cost-of-living crisis,” confirmed Lutz Schüler, Chief Executive Officer of Virgin Media O2. “We’re working to implement the API as soon as possible making it faster and easier to sign up for our social tariff as part of a comprehensive plan to boost the awareness, availability and attractiveness of Essential Broadband.”

The government’s Cost of Living Business Tsar is working to secure further deals under the Help for Households campaign which will be announced over the coming weeks and months.


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