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Broadband ISP Virgin Media O2 Promote Social Tariff to All UK Users

Thursday, Dec 7th, 2023 (12:00 pm) - Score 10,280
virgin media van at dusk 2020

In somewhat of an industry first, Virgin Media (VMO2) has today announced that they’re launching a new awareness campaign for their cheaper broadband social tariffs, which will see the ISP contacting every one of their 5 million UK customers to make them aware of the option and offer to support those struggling with bills. O2 also plan a mobile social tariff.

The Essential Broadband tariff typically enables those on state benefits to take an unlimited 15Mbps (2Mbps upload) connection on a 30-day rolling contract for just £12.50 per month, rising to £20 per month if you opt for their faster 54Mbps (5Mbps upload) tier. Plus, if you pay an extra £20 one-off, then you’re able to add their STREAM TV box.

NOTE: The ‘Essentials’ plans are available to new and existing customers on Universal Credit, Pension Credit, Income Support, Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income-based Employment Support Allowance. This year alone, VMO2 has seen an increased uptake of more than 285% in eligible households taking their social tariff.

However, one of the challenges with social tariffs has been the issue of awareness, since many of those eligible for it still don’t know that the option even exists. Broadband and mobile providers are often understandably hesitant to do the sort of campaign mentioned above to tackle this, not least because of the impact it could have on their financial results (i.e. driving lots of users toward tiers that don’t make the ISP much or any money – they aren’t charities).

The operator is also working closely with local authority partners, including Greater Manchester Combined Authority, Slough Borough Council, Bradford Council and Telford and Wrekin Council, to leverage their local knowledge and help dial up the information on cost-of-living support available through their various community channels and networks. It is anticipated that this will help boost awareness of social tariffs amongst groups in greater need of additional support.

As well as highlighting the existing support on offer for broadband customers, VMO2 has also committed to going further to support customers by “launching a dedicated mobile social tariff” via O2 sometime in 2024, which will complement the wide range of mobile offers already available by the operator and across the wider industry.

Rob Orr, Chief Operations Officer at Virgin Media O2, said:

“Having pioneered one of the first broadband social tariffs back in 2020, we know the difference that affordable connectivity can make to people’s lives and we’ve continued to step up to provide support.

To go further once again, we’re boosting our awareness raising efforts to spread the word about the support measures we’ve put in place. Whether that’s through information on customers’ monthly bills or our collaboration with local authorities across the UK, millions more people will be regularly reminded about our Essential Broadband packages which offer cut-price broadband and entertainment for those facing financial difficulty.

While we have regularly increased the support on offer, we won’t solve digital exclusion alone, which is why we’re reiterating our call on Government to update its 9-year-old digital inclusion strategy and cut VAT on social tariffs to further help those who need it.”

At the same time, VMO2 has reiterated their call for the Government to play their part by updating its almost decade old Digital Inclusion Strategy to meet the needs of present day and cutting the rate of VAT (Value Added Tax) on social tariffs from 20% to no more than 5%, which is something that they’ve so far shown no indication of doing. The telecoms company has committed to passing on any social tariff VAT cut to consumers in full.

One risk here is that prices for customers on other packages may end up rising more than usual in order to compensate for a higher proportion of consumers taking their social tariff. But that only really becomes a big issue if the volume of adoption is significant enough to cause such a strain, and we aren’t there yet.

Finally, a quick reminder. We know social tariffs can be a divisive topic for some, but that is not an excuse to abuse the comment system in order to post offensive remarks toward those who take state benefits. Such posts are against our rules and will be removed.

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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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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13 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Matt says:

    I really wish the Gov would take ownership of the problem and give people who are unable to support themselves a fair value. Pushing the problem to industries to handle I feel like is a slippery slope to removing themselves from ownership.

    Demonizing people who need the most help is not an ideal place to be, especially as I feel like these sorts of products will further push the “us and them” divide.

    Social tariffs are – to me – a sign of failed Central and Local Gov policy.

    But then, that would mean the Gov actually worked for the people and weren’t self serving, which seems to be a problem in modern politics…

    1. Avatar photo Jemima says:

      Maybe if the government enacted policies that didn’t flatline wages and drive up inflation, particularly energy costs and rent/house prices, there mightn’t be a need for social tariffs.

    2. Avatar photo Can't say says:

      Bt agents aren’t allowed to tell customers about it

  2. Avatar photo Big Dave says:

    Community Fibre already offers their social tariff to all as confirmed in this interview with Richard Tang of Zen


  3. Avatar photo ACDeag says:

    The Government doesn’t like reducing VAT rates because it is rarely passed on, the suppliers just take it as extra profit.

  4. Avatar photo Roger_Gooner says:

    Virgin Media launched Essential Broadband in November 2020 at at price of £15pm, and when Essential Plus was launched in November 2022 for £20pm for those who opted for 54Mbps, Essential was reduced to £12.50pm. It’s good to see both these tariffs and that there has been no price rise either.

  5. Avatar photo Rob says:

    I pay them £17 a month for 125mb, landline with free weekend calls and basic tv

    Loyalty deal

  6. Avatar photo Gregg says:

    So more expensive than a loyalty deal and half the speed?

    1. Avatar photo Rik says:

      But with the flexibility of being able to cancel at short notice without fear of heavy disconnection fees.

    2. Avatar photo Rob says:

      Unlimited data, calls and texts for £10 a month.

      From voxi, they do a social one too

    3. Avatar photo I love Starlink says:

      Thats for 6 months only.

      Smarty do £12 a month for as long as you are eligible and they check every 12 months

  7. Avatar photo Mark Smith says:

    The main issue with social tariffs is that the types of people ithey target typically fail credit checks.
    Even when Community fibre offered a few hundred completely free of charge connections for 12 months, the interest and uptake was tiny. Largely because a) people were cynical and didn’t believe they would be free without a catch, and b) because this type of demographic just doesnt want to give their personal details over to qualify and enable the free connection.

  8. Avatar photo Slow2 says:

    If O2 was free I STILL wouldn’t use it! Last time I was on it I was getting speeds LESS than Dial-Up! I was getting 0.03Mb download speeds when stood right next to an O2 mast (for comparison, Dial Up is 0.05Mb!)

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