Ofcom has called on the UK’s internet providers to do more to help low-income families save on their broadband bills as it was revealed only 1% have taken advantage of discounted deals.
As the cost of living rises, Ofcom has called on broadband providers to introduce and more widely promote specially discounted packages.
The regulator says it has found that the packages – sometimes known as social tariffs – are currently available to around 4.2 million households in receipt of Universal Credit, but only 55,000 homes – 1.2% of those eligible – have taken advantage of the deals so far.
Ofcom said, as a result, millions of lower-income households were missing out on an average annual broadband saving of £144 each.
It has called on the providers with social tariffs in place to promote them more widely and other firms to introduce them, with swift and simple sign-up options so more people can take advantage of the saving.
“People rely on their broadband for staying in touch, working and learning from home. But for those who are really struggling with rising bills, every penny counts,” Lindsey Fussell, networks and communications group director at Ofcom, said.
“Special discounts can make all the difference, and too many broadband firms are failing either to promote their social tariff or to offer one at all. We expect companies to step up support for those on low incomes, and we’ll be watching their response.”
According to its latest research, around 1.1 million households are struggling to afford their home broadband service, with Ofcom predicting affordability problems are likely to worsen in 2022 as the cost of living continues to rise.
It said six providers – BT, Community Fibre, G.Network, Hyperoptic, Kcom and Virgin Media O2 – offer at least one specially discounted deal priced between £10 and £20 a month for broadband speeds ranging from 10Mbit/s to 67Mbit/s.
As well as urging others to introduce their own social tariff, Ofcom has called on these firms to ensure deals are properly promoted and easy to sign up for, saying customers must not be put off applying because it appears difficult to prove they are eligible.
“We know that one in 10 people aren’t confident they’ll be able to pay their broadband bill in the next three months. This comes as the majority of us face huge increases on our broadband bill, piling on yet more pressure in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis,” Matthew Upton, director of policy at Citizens’ Advice, said.
“It’s been more than six months since Ofcom and the Government started pushing social tariffs as an answer, but the shameful 1% take-up says it all. It’s people on the lowest incomes who are missing out.
“If firms aren’t able to show serious increases in the number of people they’re helping move to these tariffs in the next six months, the Government and Ofcom must take action.”