Choose welcomes the news that both BT and Virgin Media have made changes to the way their affordable broadband tariffs are promoted. This follows engagement by Ofcom and the publication of their latest Affordability of Communications Services research this week.
The report published by Ofcom confirmed Virgin Media has changed the availability of their Essential Broadband package to all households within their network area rather than only existing customers. With the Virgin network reaching over 15.5 million households, this provides an affordable tariff to a significant number of people on Universal Credit who may be struggling with their broadband bills.
Similarly, following the publication of the report, BT announced they will allow sign-ups to their Home Essentials tariff in their high street EE and BT shops, with more proactive marketing of their affordable deals.
It is positive that major providers are working to make social tariffs more accessible to customers. However, it remains concerning that Ofcom does not yet believe they should mandate more providers to introduce social tariffs even as they acknowledge that affordability pressures are likely to worsen during 2022.
By Ofcom's own admission, only 1.2% of customers eligible for a social broadband have signed up to such a tariff with 4.2 million recipients of Universal Credit able to cut their bills. Given this dire take-up, the regulator is urging providers to adopt social tariffs and promote them more effectively.
Recent research published in January by Choose found that 11% of households would not be able to afford the above-inflation price rises that are coming into force in April for many broadband customers. Ofcom would like to see providers promoting social tariffs when price increases are communicated to customers, yet they have stopped short of requiring them to do this.
Lyndsey Burton, MD of Choose.co.uk said, "While welcome progress has been made to improve accessibility to affordable tariffs, there is plenty more work to do and it is time for Ofcom to step in to demand providers make the changes the industry desperately needs.
"The vast majority of customers eligible for social broadband tariffs either do not know they exist or believe the tariffs are not for them. More effective promotion will help with the first point, but a shift in culture may be required to combat the second issue.
"Ofcom concede that the application process can be confusing and have urged providers to make it easier for customers to prove their eligibility. However, requiring customers to actively seek out affordable tariffs and admit they need more assistance with their finances is often more difficult than providers realise.
"The partnership between TalkTalk and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that provides jobseekers with broadband vouchers has shown that support can be put in place at the benefit level to reach those who are eligible. Rather than forcing customers to retrospectively seek out assistance when they are struggling, help could and should be signposted at an earlier stage.".