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Low Awareness Hampers Take-up of UK Social Broadband Tariffs

Wednesday, November 24th, 2021 (12:09 pm) - Score 1,152
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A new Opinium survey for Uswitch, which questioned 2,000 UK adults this month, has estimated that 65% of those deemed to be “financially vulnerable people” aren’t aware that social tariffs for broadband exist from various UK ISPs, with just 15% of eligible households actually applying for them.

Broadband services in the UK are often considered to be quite reasonably priced, but there are always those – often in the most disadvantaged groups (i.e. low income, unemployed etc.) – who may struggle with paying their bills. The latter has become a much bigger problem during the COVID-19 crisis, which has since been exasperated by a surge in inflation and the rising cost of other services, such as energy (gas and electric).

Over the past year we’ve seen a number of ISPs respond to this, partly as a result of pressure from politicians and Ofcom, by either launching or upgrading lower cost Social Tariffs to better match modern demands. For example, there’s BT’s Home Essentials package (here), Hyperoptic’s Fair Fibre Plan (here) and the Essential Broadband plan from Virgin Media etc. (KCOM, VOXI and CommunityFibre also have similar tariffs).


However, it’s already quite well known that one of the biggest issues on this front has been the sheer lack of consumer awareness around their very existence. Broadband ISPs, perhaps understandably, tend not to openly promote them alongside their main packages and instead hide their social tariffs away on separate pages, which require more effort to uncover.

Overall, the Uswitch survey noted that 74% of respondents had no idea that such social tariffs even existed, which (as above) falls to 65% for those who were found to be “potentially eligible for mobile or broadband social tariffs.”

Ofcom has already called on the industry (here) to address the problem of awareness and warned that, failing that, there may be a “strong case for exploring … mandatory social tariffs.” But this seems unlikely to have much of an impact unless the issue of promotion can be addressed. Despite all the publicity of this issue since 2020, it’s striking to see that so few consumers still seem to be aware that such an option even exists.

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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.
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11 Responses
  1. Meadmodj says:

    It’s not just communication. It’s the small print.

    As shown above there is no consistency and if you look at the detail for UC the criteria for UC from VM is simply the receipt of UC but for BT basic it is Universal Credit (and are on zero earnings). Although BT do include other benefits that VM don’t.

    Over 1.5 million households across the UK receive Pension Credit but they aren’t covered by VM and others. In addition are Pensioners with only their State Pension and they are excluded by all. As its voluntary not all ISPs participate.

    It means therefore that the Social Tariff is benefit and location dependent as well as unfair for those on similar restricted budgets. If they advertise it more no doubt it will attract people who do not actually need it whilst excluding others that do.

    Another example of a well intended Private Members Bill not being progressed as the Government promised to address it only for it then to be poorly implemented by Ofcom.

  2. Sam Perry says:

    Voxi for now is no longer available.

  3. dealer says:

    Social tariff or shop around?

    At time of writing there are offers on Hotukdeals that net out at £14.50 for Vodafone superfast 2 (expires tomorrow but doubtless there will be others), beating the social offers cited.

    Of course, if you can’t afford broadband, you can’t visit that site to see the deals…vicious circle.

    1. Sam says:

      Yeah but a 2 year contract when your jobless is not a great thing to be stuck in.

    2. GaryH says:

      @Sam. Totally agree, 2 year contracts are a joke for a service provider, even if you’re not struggling.
      It’s been an unpalatable trend, Instead of looking for long term commitment from consumers by offering a good price/service it’s click bait retail, same as the £20 for 4 months then £45 for the next however long.
      I know others here have argued/debated in the past regarding the fact it’s a consumers ‘choice’ to enter into such a contract to gain a discount. My take is that it’s anti competitive and very much not a fair and equitable contract.

      Add in the RPI increases and the whole thing becomes worse, So the company gets to increase your bills during a fixed term contract but doesn’t have to increase your allowances ie data or reduce the bills in line with their other plans. Who is the winner in all this? They’re not doing it for your benefit.

  4. MilesT says:

    So does Uswitch actually promote these offers on their website and ask for details to match up eligible offers?

  5. GARYH says:

    Not knowing about them is pretty typical of any support that’s available, we have a long history of people entitled to socially funded aid not receiving it because they didn’t know and weren’t told by social services, compounded with complex, confusing and ultimately inefficient expensive processes.

    As mentioned anything requiring either a long contract after or a long period before you can apply doesn’t help the aim of the scheme and the people its supposed to benefit.

  6. Paul says:

    How about these UC people get a job like the rest of us instead of sponging for eternity?

    There are 1 MILLION unfulfilled jobs in the UK right now. Plenty of work out there.

    It’s because claiming Benefits pays out so much better than working. That’s the reason.

    1. binary says:


      40% of UC receipients are in work, but receive UC because they are low paid.


  7. Harv says:

    Name an ISP that provides rolling monthly contracts, far more important than a slightly cheaper tariff on an 18 or 24 month contract for those renting their home on 12 month tenancies

    1. binary says:

      I agree this is an issue. NOW Broadband offer rolling monthly contracts, though you have to pay a £60 set-up fee if you cannot commit to 12 months.

      However if you’re pretty sure you’ll be there for say 10 months, it’d be cheaper to commit to 12 then buy yourself out of the end of the contract.

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