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Gov Make it Easier to Verify Eligibility for Cheap Broadband Social Tariffs

Monday, Aug 15th, 2022 (7:33 am) - Score 2,736
Housing cost

The UK Government has moved to encourage wider adoption of cheaper broadband “Social Tariffs” – usually only available to those taking certain state benefits – by launching a new system that makes it easier for Internet Service Providers (ISP) to confirm the eligibility of their customers for such plans.

A growing number of internet access providers currently offer low cost social tariffs, including BT (Home Essentials), Virgin Media (Essential Broadband), Hyperoptic (Fair Fibre Plans), KCOM (Flex), G.Network (Essential Fibre), Sky Broadband (Sky Basics) and more. Customers on social tariffs could, in some cases, save over a hundred pounds a year.

NOTE: Ofcom says just 55,000 homes have taken such a tariff (1.2% of those eligible).

The Government and Ofcom have also spent the past two years trying to encourage more ISPs to proactively promote or introduce such tariffs, which as above is clearly having some impact. But social tariffs still face a number of challenges, such as with the general lack of consumer awareness around them (not helped by most ISPs hiding them away on their websites).

The complexity involved with their introduction is another challenge, particularly for smaller ISPs that may find it difficult to handle both the additional costs of maintaining such plans and with checking eligibility for them. This is especially true for alternative network ISPs, which are busy rolling out new FTTP networks and can’t easily stomach loss-leaders.

However, the Government has just announced that a new service, which will go live next week on Monday 22nd August 2022 and be run by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), will allow ISPs to verify – with customers’ permission – whether they are in receipt of a relevant benefit and therefore eligible for extra financial support.

The new system will also simplify the process by removing the need for customers to prove their entitlement to broadband providers (e.g. sending screenshots of their Universal Credit account or providing a letter from the Jobcentre), which can occur as regularly as every month. But to be fair, quite a few ISPs only required you to do this once a year.

David Buttress, Cost of Living Business Tsar, said:

“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. 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.”

Nadine Dorries, Digital Secretary, said:

“Social tariffs are vital for families struggling with bills, keeping them connected even in tough times. 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.”

The DWP said that its system would be designed to 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. But at launch it won’t be able to work with all benefits, although the key ones are covered.

Benefits that the DWP’s system will be able to verify:

Universal Credit
Pension Credit
Income Support
Income-Based Jobseeker’s Allowance
Income-Related Employment Support Allowance

The new scheme is already being supported by Virgin Media (VMO2) who, following discussions with Government, has announced today that they will use the system to verify eligible customers signing up to their Essential Broadband tariff. The company will also waive early termination fees for those moving from existing tariffs.

However, it’s worth remembering that the price we all pay for communication services is largely dwarfed by the colossal hikes in energy (e.g. gas and electricity), petrol, food and other bills. If people are struggling to afford even a fairly basic internet or mobile package, which don’t typically form a large chunk of household bills, then they’ve probably got much more serious concerns in those other areas. Social tariffs are thus a relative drop in the ocean, albeit an ocean where every drop does count.

The new system is thus helpful for both ISPs and consumers alike. But if the Government were really serious about tackling the cost of living then they could go further, such as by enabling ISPs to cut Value Added Tax (VAT) on broadband and mobile bills from 20% to 5% (here).

UPDATE 17th August 2022

We’ve had a comment from the CEO of the Independent Networks Co-operative Association (INCA), which represents various alternative broadband ISPs and network builders.

Malcolm Corbett, INCA CEO, said:

“The announcement from Government to allow broadband providers to verify – with customers’ permission – whether customers are eligible for a social tariff is welcomed by INCA. ​Our members are keen to see the technical details of the Government’s new system so that they can understand how long it will take them to make the necessary changes to their own systems and processes.

In the meantime, INCA encourages consumers as always to contact their ISP if they are struggling to pay their broadband bill.

To make sure that prices stay low however, a competitive market is crucial as it can ensure high quality services, better choice and better prices for customers in the long run.

It is important that this work between operators and Government continues to ensure effective competition thrives, and that Government remains committed to improving the delivery of broadband to millions of people in the UK. INCA encourages the Government to continue in this direction, and that further consideration be given to additional vulnerable households that are not identified by the new system, for example, some pensioners.”

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Mark-Jackson
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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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Comments
12 Responses
  1. Avatar photo callum says:

    Hmm Virgin Media, with them for 31 years always top package never missed a single payment – moved to a new place up north after relocating only to lose my job through redundancy a week later. I applied for this so I could have internet whilst I looked for a new job.

    Bam! – turned down – they can’t tell me why. Only option I had was Plusnet which is okay but I wanted faster than 70mbps – So I really hope this new system is better and I will try again when I can.

    1. Avatar photo callum says:

      The kicker being the website said all good and gave me a date for install – 3 week wait due to needing a fresh install – only to be told 2 days before that it was not going to happen by some rather rude call centre agent out of the blue. They need to make sure once verified it actually happens also – maybe VM’s system aren’t ready yet

    2. Avatar photo Mike says:

      You don’t need more than 70Mbps to find a job.

    3. Avatar photo Ell says:

      I spent nearly 3 weeks trying to downgrade to Virgin Essential, came across all sorts of issues ranging from them not having my address on the system despite telling them over 2 years ago about it, to being told that the essential package doesn’t exist and only the Fibre50 package exists (issue there was not everyone at Virgin has the essential package details in front of them), to being told I gave them the wrong address details to finally being told that my evidence wasn’t good enough despite being told by Virgin after appealing that they could see no issue with it.

      In the end, I simply put my foot down and made a formal complaint about the poor customer service and stated I would withhold paying them until they got their act together.

      I finally got it sorted though and no changes occurred other then the package downgrade and updating my personal details.

      I did get a reply back from Virgin with regards to my complaint which I fired back a response stating it was unacceptable and they had not listened to the complaint, they have now carried out the action to resolve it.

    4. Avatar photo WibbledOff says:

      @callum You seem to be concentrating on the wrong things. I take it you had a written contract and relocation package when you moved up north?

      If you had these then you should be pursuing compensation from your now ex employer rather than bashing ISPs.

      If you didn’t get either a new contract or relocation package then if I was you I would seek legal advice.

      Either way I think you have bigger issues to sort out than getting high speed Internet.

    5. Avatar photo An Engineer says:

      Virgin Media Essential is 15 Mb download, 2 Mb upload.

      https://www.virginmedia.com/broadband/low-income-families

      If you wanted faster you weren’t getting it on their social tariff so no idea what you signed up for.

  2. Avatar photo bent says:

    Need more 70 mbps for ps5 digital downloads

    1. Avatar photo WibbledOff says:

      If you spent less money on games then you would be able to afford such things.

    2. Avatar photo Guest says:

      Where did they say they wanted it for PS5 games?

      All they said was they wanted faster then 70mbps which in my view you don’t need for job hunting or trolling here.

      It’s a pity that while BT can offer 38mbps on a social tariff for £15, Virgin restrict it to 15mbps but then again, BT offers a 12 month contract while Virgin offers a 30 day rolling contract.

    3. Avatar photo Mike says:

      @Guest

      It’s pretty obvious given you don’t need higher speeds to browse job sites.

    4. Avatar photo WibbledOff says:

      @Guest You must have missed the part where they said “ps5 digital downloads”, that means game downloads instead of buying physical copies.

  3. Avatar photo Ad47uk says:

    What good will it do? Broadband is pretty cheap now and to be honest if people are struggling to pay energy bills and food, then broadband will be or should be the first thing to go, along with their Sky TV

Comments are closed

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