What is a social tariff? How to get discount broadband if you're on Universal Credit

ITV News' Cari Davies explains what deals can be accessed for millions missing out on broadband deals

As many as one million people cut off their broadband in the last year as the cost-of-living crisis left them unable to afford it, a survey from Citizens Advice suggests.

The organisation warned that the essential service was becoming out of reach for many, arguing that broadband providers weren't promoting cheaper broadband and phone deals, known as social tariffs, efficiently enough.

Last month, the UK’s telecoms watchdog also urged providers to better promote the discounts, which could save them around £200 a year. Ofcom said more than half of low-income households do not know about social tariffs.

Just 5% of eligible households have signed up to a discounted package which offers superfast broadband speeds from as little as £12 a month, according to Ofcom’s report.

So, who qualifies and why aren't more people accessing it?

What is the social tariff scheme and who is eligible?

The scheme allows broadband providers to offer discount rates for internet and phone deals to verified recipients of Universal Credit.

People in receipt of Pension Credit, Income Support, Jobseeker’s Allowance and Employment & Support Allowance can also qualify.

Many were turned off getting the cheaper rate because they wanted fast internet. Credit: PA

The government made the process of acquiring the discount easier in August, allowing providers to talk to the Department of Work and Pensions to verify the customer gets Universal Credit.

Previously customers would regularly have to provide proof to their provider that they were on the benefit.

Different providers offer different packages but they are usually around £10-£20 a month for 20-40mbps - up to 50% cheaper than normal rates.

On average, an eligible household could save £202 per year by switching to a social tariff.

A key part of the scheme is also that prices cannot be increased.

Why are people not taking up the offer?

In November last year, Which? surveyed more than 2,000 people eligible for fixed broadband social tariffs, finding that 39% of those who could sign up and were aware of them did not intend to do so.

The main reasons cited for not switching were fears that the social tariff speed offered was too slow (44%), not being able to leave a current contract (32%), the deal not being good enough (24%) and lacking information (24%).

Which? looked at all major UK providers and found some who did not offer the discount, or if they did they offered slower speeds than normal packages.

These speeds can work for small households who do not use the internet heavily, but if several different rooms are streaming content in the same house they could suffer lag.

Six in 10 eligible households (63%) said they were completely unaware social tariffs existed, with half of this group saying they were likely to switch after hearing about them.

Why do so few people know about it?

Awareness remains a challenge, Ofcom said, and providers may not be being clear to customers about how to find and sign up to the packages.

Ofcom's report found that some 53% of benefits claimants are unaware of social tariffs as of February 2023.

Some providers make it hard to know if they do offer the discounted rate, with just shy of one in 10 (9%) of those eligible finding out about social tariffs through their provider. Most people hear about it through social media (26%) and television (21%).

Another key reason people are unaware of the offers is that unless specifically searched for the discount deals do not appear on price comparison websites, a previous Which? report found.

They also are often not clearly advertised on providers' websites when looking at the normal packages they offer.

Instead, providers often have a separate webpage dedicated to the social tariff, which isn't as easy to find as their normal offerings.

Ofcom said they have raised these concerns with providers and hope they will review their social tariff webpages "as a matter of urgency to ensure the information is accurate, clear and understandable for consumers, and highlights all the protections offered by social tariffs."

Who offers what?

Around 20 providers now offer fixed broadband social tariffs to an estimated 4.3 million households getting universal credit, pension credit and some other government benefits.

Most major broadband providers offer a fixed social tariff, including BT, Sky, Virgin Media and Now.

Not all providers offer the tariff, but enough large providers (including BT) do that you should be able to get one anywhere in the UK.

Ofcom said Sky, Now and Vodafone only offered social tariffs for fixed broadband with average speeds of 38mbps or less - significantly lower than the median UK download speed of 59mbps.

Broadband modem. Credit: PA

Three providers - Virgin Media, BT and Hyperoptic - all offer several social tariff offerings at different speeds at various price points.

TalkTalk offers free 38mbps internet for six months to job seekers, but this needs to be approved by Jobcentre staff.

Moneysavingexpert.com has a dedicated page for comparing some of the different social tariff deals on offer.

Which? last year called on all providers to offer a range of social tariffs to suit every household’s needs and ensure they are properly advertising all their offerings to new and existing customers.

It has also urged providers to ensure people do not have to pay early termination charges to move to a social tariff, even if they are moving to another provider.

"Broadband providers need to step up their efforts to promote their social tariffs to low-income consumers and ensure people aren't missing out unnecessarily," Which? Director of Policy and Advocacy Rocio Concha said.

She added: "We'd strongly encourage anyone who thinks they could be eligible for a social tariff to get in touch with their provider as soon as possible - as switching to these discounted rates could halve their bills overnight."

Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom's group director for network and communications urged anyone who thinks they might be eligible to contact their provider "and potentially save hundreds of pounds".

"Providers should also do much more to help these customers find and access these deals, at a time when these savings could make a massive difference," she said.

You can find a list of all the deals available, along with advice for switching, on Ofcom's website.

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