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Mobile and broadband firms meet with ministers to look at further support to help people facing cost of living difficulties

The UK’s biggest broadband and mobile operators yesterday met with the government to follow up on commitments agreed in the summer to support customers with the cost of living.

  • Summit comes as the government launches a public awareness campaign to raise awareness of cut-price social tariffs
  • Attendees identified the barriers for those not currently taking up social tariffs starting at £10
  • Minister urged telecoms companies to consider the impact price rises may have on struggling households

The UK’s biggest broadband and mobile operators yesterday met with the government to follow up on commitments agreed in the summer to support customers with the cost of living.

Digital minister Julia Lopez called together leaders from the telecoms sector - including BT, Virgin Media, O2, Sky, Vodafone, TalkTalk, Three Mobile, Hyperoptic and Ofcom - at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) for an update on work to boost awareness of social tariffs.

Minister Lopez urged the sector to commit to raising awareness of these affordable deals available for people in receipt of Universal Credit, which could save them up to £180 per year when compared to the average tariff.

An Ofcom report in September found that only 31 per cent of eligible groups were aware that social tariffs were available, despite them being available in 99 per cent of the UK to reach those who need the support most.

The meeting took place on the day the government launched a UK-wide public awareness campaign as part of its Help for Households programme. The campaign aims to help people through the cost of living this winter and will help increase awareness and uptake of the cut-price broadband and mobile deals available to help those struggling with bills.

As well as agreeing to make vital steps to make sure eligible customers know about social tariffs starting from as little as £10, the industry agreed to share insight into the barriers beyond consumer awareness that are preventing households from taking up social tariffs.

The Minister also reminded broadband and mobile companies to be mindful of the impact price rises have on households struggling with the global rise in the cost of living.

In a move welcomed by the government, attendee Hyperoptic also marked the occasion by announcing that they will be dropping the price of their fastest speed social tariff from £25 to just £20.

Digital Infrastructure Minister Julia Lopez, said:

Helping families manage the cost of living is a priority for this winter and beyond. It is vital to find out what more we and the telecoms industry can do to support families worried about their bills.

Everyone should have access to affordable mobile and broadband services. Yesterday we agreed that more has to be done to raise awareness of social tariffs and stressed the impact price increases have on people and families up and down the country.

Minister for Social Mobility, Youth and Progression Mims Davies said:

We have already made it easier for vulnerable families receiving certain benefits to access cheaper broadband rates through our automatic verification system. I do welcome yesterday’s discussion which further shows our commitment to working innovatively with industry to keep low-income families connected and able to progress as a result of this support.

Social tariffs are just one of the ways we are assisting households at this challenging time, with millions already receiving £1,200 in direct payments and more on the way next year. I encourage anyone who thinks they might be entitled to further support to check their eligibility via our online benefits calculator.

The move follows a roundtable in June where the Government and operators agreed a raft of new commitments to support people with rising costs, including more manageable payments and switching to a cheaper deal free-of-charge.

Following this, the Department for Work and Pensions also launched a new service to verify – with customers’ permission – whether they are in receipt of a relevant benefit and therefore eligible for extra financial support such as a social tariff. The new system will simplify the process by removing the need for customers to prove their entitlement to broadband providers as regularly as every month.

Notes to Editors

  • In June, the government agreed five commitments with industry to support customers who may be struggling. These are outlined here.
  • A list of the available low-cost social tariffs can be found here.

Marc Allera, CEO BT Consumer brands EE, BT and Plusnet, said:

Supporting our customers, especially those most in need, is hugely important to us. Our low cost social tariffs for broadband and mobile support those customers who are worried about their finances and need extra help. “Digital connectivity is increasingly important to everyone, so I’m pleased to join discussions with Ministers and industry leaders on how Government and industry can work better together to develop programs that are both fair and sustainable.”

Nicola Green, Chief Communications & Corporate Affairs Officer from Virgin Media said:

Virgin Media O2 is committed to supporting digital inclusion and helping our customers through the cost of living crisis.

We launched our Essential Broadband social tariff over two years ago and since launch have reduced its price and introduced a new tier for customers who want more data.

We will also expand customer eligibility for Essential Broadband, enabling more people to enjoy broadband at a lower price.  We are delighted, therefore, to support the Government’s campaign to promote broadband social tariffs.

Rocio Concha, Which? Director of Policy and Advocacy, said:

Social tariffs can be a hugely valuable tool to help people who are struggling financially during the cost of living crisis, yet far too few customers are aware they exist and take up is very low.

Working together, government and providers have the potential to ensure millions of eligible customers get the vital connectivity they need at an affordable price.

Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s Networks and Communications Group Director, said:

Social tariffs can make a big difference for people who are struggling with rising bills. Since Ofcom started shining a light on this issue two years ago, the number of providers offering them has increased from two to fourteen.

But millions of eligible households are still missing out on these packages. So there needs to be a much stronger emphasis on offering and promoting them so low-income households can get the help they urgently need.

Dr Emma Stone, Director of Evidence and Engagement from Good Things Foundation said: “

We want to help everyone and every household stay connected through this crisis. Yesterday’s roundtable, alongside initiatives like our National Databank – gifting free mobile data donated by Virgin Media O2, Vodafone and Three UK – show that there is will and commitment to act together.

Dana Tobak, Chief Executive of Hyperoptic said:

I’m encouraged to see our industry coming together to address the rising cost of living. At Hyperoptic, we commissioned research to inform measures network operators can take to tackle digital poverty. Since then we have put that research into action with our ‘fair fibre framework’, a list of commitments we are making to support our customers through the rising cost of living.

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