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2.5 Million UK People Struggle to Pay their Broadband ISP Bills

Friday, June 4th, 2021 (12:40 pm) - Score 1,656
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A new survey from the Citizens Advice agency has estimated that 2.5 million people are “behind” on paying their broadband ISP bills and 700,000 have fallen into the red during the COVID-19 crisis. The charity is thus calling on more providers to launch cheaper social tariffs.

The latest survey, which was conducted by ICM Unlimited with a representative sample of 6,001 adults living in the UK between 25th March and 9th April 2021, appears to be somewhat of an update to the study they published earlier this year (here).

The research notes that young people and those with children under 18 are three times more likely to be behind on their broadband bills, than older groups or those without children. Likewise, Households on Universal Credit are nine times as likely to be behind on their broadband bill compared to those not on the benefit.

Ultimately, falling behind on bills could potentially lead to your broadband service being disconnected. But the charity’s frontline advisers also see people who simply cannot afford broadband in the first place, or are cutting back elsewhere to keep their connection.

Survey Questions and Results

➤ Are you currently behind on any of the following household bills – broadband bill? 5% said yes

➤ In February 2020, were you behind on any of the following household bills – broadband bill? 3% said yes

➤ 18% of people who are either receiving Universal Credit, or live with someone who is, are behind on their broadband bill. This is compared to 2% of people who aren’t receiving Universal Credit and don’t live with someone who is.

➤ 12% of 18-34 year-olds are currently behind on their broadband bills, compared to 4% of 35-54 year-olds and less than 1% of 55+s

➤ 9% of households with children aged under 18 were behind on their broadband bills, vs 3% of households without under-18s.

➤ 3% said they had been disconnected from a telecoms service during the pandemic due to not having paid a landline, mobile or broadband bill.

As before, the agency is calling on the UK Government and Ofcom to “urgently ensure all providers offer low-cost broadband to people on low incomes“. A number of MPs have also called on Ofcom to introduce a regulated social tariff for those on benefits (here).

Dame Clare Moriarty, CEO of Citizens Advice, said:

“Broadband is not a luxury, it’s an essential, like gas and electricity. Lack of broadband creates yet another hurdle in the hunt for jobs, helping children with their schoolwork, and being able to access help, information and fill in forms online. Those with a broadband connection can have a huge head start on those who don’t.

Ofcom and the government must ensure everyone can afford their broadband, no matter which provider they are with. People shouldn’t be penalised simply because their provider isn’t one of the few firms that offers a cheaper tariff.”

As we’ve said before, it’s easy to suggest such a tariff, but implementation will be much harder. Broadband and mobile provision tends to be a commercial business with fairly low margins, which makes it difficult for such providers – particularly smaller players – to permanently gift super cheap (loss making) packages to lots of people without putting themselves at risk, or forcing price rises elsewhere.

Defining how much speed or data usage is acceptable on such plans is another complex matter to debate. On the other hand, the idea of offering a low-cost social tariff is nothing new in this market and indeed a few already exist. For example, BT already have their ‘Basic‘ tariff and they’re about to launch a much improved ‘Home Essentials‘ package to replace it (here).

Similarly, Virgin Media recently launched ‘Essential Broadband‘, while KCOM have ‘Flex‘ and Hyperoptic has also joined the fun with their ‘Fair Fibre Plan‘ (here). But crucially take-up of such plans remains fairly low and so it might be better for Ofcom to tackle the promotion side before they try forcing a regulated solution on an entire industry. Ofcom have been pondering over all of this since last year (here).

Finally, the Citizens Advice agency warns that “mobile data is not a substitute” for fixed line broadband, although that’s no longer entirely correct and indeed a large proportion of people may now be able to get faster mobile than fixed line broadband speeds. The advent of affordable unlimited data tariffs has also had a big impact. The mobile broadband market has moved on a lot in the past two years.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
Leave a Comment
12 Responses
  1. adslmax says:

    UC Rates are very poor indeed below:

    Single claimant aged under 25 with the £20 uplift: £344.00 per month
    Single claimant aged under 25 without the £20 uplift: £257.34 per month

    Single claimant aged 25 or over with the £20 uplift: £411.51 per month
    Single claimant aged 25 or over without the £20 uplift: £324.85

    With this rates all household bills including foods will be very struggling!

    Don’t understand why it under 25 is very low rates (should be under 18 not under 25) Shame on you Government!

    1. WibbledOff says:

      Currently many companies and businesses are crying out for people to work for them, but the government has been giving away freebies so much over the last year, it means people have no incentive to work.

    2. Buggerlugz says:

      Which is why the UK needs to have a universal basic income. Even more so after COVID when the cost of living constantly increases whilst the government continues to pretend there is no inflation at all.

    3. Mike says:


      Paid for how?

    4. Buggerlugz says:

      Taxing big corporations correctly and seizing assets of criminals.

  2. A_Builder says:

    Or looking at it another way: a vacancy excess will smoke out wether the persistent unemployed are worthy of support.

    I do strongly believe that a social safety net must exist for people and families that become unemployed through no fault of their own. I actually believe that it should be more generous for those who have paid NI for longer. The principle being that they have paid into society so society can pay that back. It was called National Insurance for a reason!

    Although you do have to be careful with regional and seasonal trends.

    There is an inevitable level of unemployment in any society but I am all for it being as low as possible.

    1. Buggerlugz says:

      Its all well and good being employed if you are paid well. Unfortunately the low minimum wage in this country means the vast majority of paid very poorly, and that also happens to be the same majority who pay the most tax.

    2. AnotherTim says:

      “that also happens to be the same majority who pay the most tax.”
      I’m afraid that isn’t the case – the top 50% of earners pay over 90% of the total income tax, which means that the lower paid 50% pay less than 10% of the total income tax.
      The top 50% do earn three times as much as the bottom 50%, but they pay nine times as much tax.

  3. AnotherTim says:

    To me it feels that here’s something not quite right with the figures. Given that there are something like 27 million properties, 2.5 million struggling is ~10% – but only 5% say they are behind on their broadband payments.

    1. bib says:

      People lie. And for the past few decades, we seem to have gone into max sympathy mode whether they deserve it or not.

  4. james smith says:

    Why should internet providers offer social rates, that the rest of us subsadise? If people opt to have too many children, their problem. There are lots of promotions and capped data deals. People should learn to better budget or controll what is between their legs

  5. james smith says:

    A_Builder ref ‘I actually believe that it should be more generous for those who have paid NI for longer.’ or how about impose limits on how long/ how much can be claimed by an individual? Typically those that leave school then soon after become parents, or at best work a year or two for a local supermarket before leaving to have children never to be seen again??

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