Social broadband tariffs

Last updated: 13 September 2023   By Lyndsey Burton

Social broadband tariffs help to ensure affordable Internet access for people on lower incomes.

Social tariffs for broadband and home phone are typically available to people in receipt of means-tested benefits like Universal Credit.

They're now available from most major providers including BT, Virgin Media, Sky, Vodafone, and Community Fibre, and can help protect people from disconnecting by offering fixed-line broadband for as little as £12 per month.

Awareness of social tariffs is growing, with nearly half of all eligible households now aware of the tariffs. Yet take-up remains low at just 5.1% of those eligible.

older couple using internet at home

At a glance: social tariffs on broadband

Monthly price Broadband speed Home phone
BT £15 or £20 36Mb or 67Mb Included
Community Fibre £12.50 35Mb No
G.Network £15 50Mb No
Hyperoptic £15 or £20 50Mb or 150Mb Optional (+£3)
KCOM £19.99 30Mb Included
NOW Broadband £20 36Mb Included
Shell Energy Broadband £15 or £20 11Mb or 38Mb Included
Sky £20 36Mb Included
Virgin Media £12.50 or £20 15Mb or 50Mb No
Vodafone £12 or £20 38Mb or 73Mb Included
YouFibre £15 50Mb Optional (+£3)
4th Utility £13.99 30Mb No
B4RN £15 1Gb No
Country Connect £15 50Mb Optional (+£5)
Lightning Fibre £15 50Mb No
Lothian Broadband £19.99 100Mb Optional
Wildanet £20 30Mb Optional
WightFibre £16.50 100Mb Included

Benefits of social broadband tariffs

Social broadband tariffs are designed to help people struggling with their bills to avoid disconnecting and struggling with digital exclusion.

These tariffs are designed to be more affordable with pricing as low as £12 per month, although £15 per month is a more typical figure.

While some may be turned off that they're too slow, or too basic, social broadband tariffs actually come with a number of benefits that aren't available on standard plans.

Benefits of social broadband tariffs include:

  • They're exempt from annual price rises, which were as high as 14.4% in April 2023
  • Existing customers can switch to the deals penalty free if they need to
  • Typically, but not categorically, they come with free setup and no early cancellation charges if a customer needs to end the contract
  • Customers can usually remain on the tariffs as long as they're eligible, so there is no need to constantly switch or be subject to out of contract price rises

However, because Ofcom has chosen to take a persuasive, rather than regulatory, approach to social tariffs, terms do vary between providers and not all tariffs come with all of the benefits listed above.


Social tariff eligibility

Since a partnership was established with the Department for Work and Pensions in mid-2022, broadband providers can now run instant online checks to access eligibility for five means-tested benefits.

As a result, there has been some streamlining in eligibility, with most providers requiring customers be in receipt of one of the following benefits:

  • Universal Credit
  • Pension Credit
  • Income Support
  • Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA)

Most providers only accept income-based ESA and JSA, although this does vary.

In addition, there are providers, such as Hyperoptic, that also accept other benefits, such as Housing Benefit, Attendance Allowance, Care Leavers' Support, and Personal Independence Payment, although this isn't typical.

Community Fibre, 4th Utility and Lothian Broadband go even further however, making their social broadband tariffs available to anyone who needs a more affordable connection.

While the majority of social tariffs accept both new and existing customers, there are some variations here too, with Sky restricting their social tariffs to existing customers only.

Right now, BT are shouldering the lion's share of social tariff take-up, with 85% of households on a social tariff with BT.

However, as Virgin Media, Sky, NOW Broadband, Vodafone, Hyperoptic, and Community Fibre, all off social tariffs to both new and existing customers, around 85% of households should be able to switch to one without paying early termination charges.

Better than cheap broadband?

For anyone who isn't in receipt of one of the listed benefits, the broadband market is extremely competitive when it comes to pricing for new customers.

So, simply switching to a new deal could achieve a price just as cheap as on a social tariff. For example, right now, some of the cheapest prices for new customers are as low as £18-£19 with full fibre specialists Hyperoptic and Community Fibre.

More widely available deals include those from NOW Broadband for £21 per month for 63Mbps speeds, or even Vodafone's Full Fibre 2 plan that's just £25 per month for 82Mbps speeds.


Social broadband tariffs by provider

BT Home Essentials

BT's social tariff Home Essentials is one of the most widely available tariffs offering both a broadband and a home phone service.

Home Essentials replaced the previous BT Basic in June 2021, as BT has a legal requirement under Universal Service to provide a social home phone tariff.

Existing customers of BT, EE and Plusnet broadband can switch to BT Home Essentials without paying any early termination charges if they need to.

BT social tariff customers can choose from two broadband speed options with a home phone, or they can opt for just a home phone service.

Package Broadband Monthly price Upfront price Contract term
Home Essentials Unlimited Fibre Essentials 36Mb average
Unlimited
£15 Free 12 months
Home Essentials Unlimited Fibre 67Mb average
Unlimited
£20 Free 12 months
Home Essentials Call Only N/A £10 Free 12 months

The Unlimited Fibre Essentials plan comes with 36Mb broadband speeds, and 700 minutes of calls to UK landlines and mobiles, while the Unlimited Fibre plan comes with 67Mb broadband speeds and unlimited minutes to UK landlines and mobiles.

Both plans come with BT's Smart Hub router, and will remain active for at least 12-months, at which point customers will need to prove they're still eligible.

While the plans come with 12-month contracts, there are no early leaving penalties if a customer needs to cancel the plan at any time, or need to switch to a standard plan due to no longer being eligible.

BT list the following benefits as eligible for their social tariffs:

  • Universal Credit (all claimants)
  • Pension Credit (Guarantee Credit)
  • Employment and Support Allowance (income based or with contributory allowance that is less than the income based portion)
  • Jobseeker's Allowance (as above)
  • Income Support

BT now offer an instant online check for eligibility in partnership with the Department for Work and Pensions, so postal applications, long forms and a lengthy application process are now in the past.

Lastly, while it's worth noting there is still a credit check to pass for this service and customers may be charged a security deposit if they don't pass it. However, most people seem to be passing the credit check with ease, so it shouldn't put anyone off applying.

Read more about BT Home Essentials in our dedicated guide.


Community Fibre Essential

Community Fibre focus their independent full fibre network across Greater London, covering all 32 boroughs.

Their social broadband tariff, Essential, is unlike all other social tariffs because it's made available to anyone who financially needs it. That means, there is no eligibility checks or requirements.

Package Broadband Monthly price Upfront price Contract term
Essential 35Mb average
Unlimited
£12.50 Free 12 months

Community Fibre Essential is available to both new and existing customers, and customers can upgrade to a faster package at any time if they want to.

Essential has recently been boosted to offer 35Mb symmetrical download and upload speeds, up from its previous 20Mbps speed.

It's worth noting that while Community Fibre's social tariff is exempt from annual price rises, it does come with a setup fee of £14.95 and customers are tied to a 12-month minimum term, which can't be cancelled without incurring early termination charges.

Despite this however, at a time of such financial crisis for so many families, we think Community Fibre deserve applause for their approach to offering the package to anyone who needs it and removing any requirement to prove income support.


G.Network Essential Fibre

G.Network are a London ISP with a presence in and around Central London including areas such as Shoreditch, Angel, Maida Vale and Camden Town.

G.Network's social tariff, Essential Fibre, was introduced in February 2022, and offers download speeds of 50Mb on a full fibre connection.

Package Broadband Monthly price Upfront price Contract term
Essential Fibre 50Mb average
Unlimited
£15 Free 12 months

Customers must be in receipt of one of these benefits to be eligible for the social tariff:

  • Universal Credit
  • Income Support
  • Pension Credit (Guarantee Credit)
  • Income-related Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA)
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

There's a 12-month contract associated with Essential Fibre. G.Network will contact a customer when this 12-month period is coming to an end to see if they wish to continue with the package or switch to a standard tariff. Another eligibility check will be conducted at that point.


Hyperoptic Fair Fibre

Hyperoptic are full fibre specialists, with limited availability around urban centres. They have a particular presence in London for example.

Hyperoptic offer the Fair Fibre plan with a choice of two download speeds and the option to bundle a home phone with inclusive evening and weekend calls.

Package Broadband Monthly price Upfront price Contract term
Fair Fibre Fast Broadband Only 50Mb average
Unlimited
£15 Free 30 days
Fair Fibre Superfast Broadband Only 150Mb average
Unlimited
£20 Free 30 days

Hyperoptic's social tariff Fair Fibre was one of the deciding factors when they won our Digital Inclusion Award in 2021 and 2022.

Hyperoptic have also recently reduced the price of the faster 150Mb tier by £5, as the plan was previously priced at £25, and now costs £20 per month.

Eligibility for Fair Fibre is broad, including the following benefits:

  • Income Support
  • Pension Credit
  • Income-related Job Seekers Allowance (JSA)
  • Housing Benefit
  • Personal Independence Payment
  • Attendance Allowance
  • Universal Credit
  • Care Leavers support
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance (EAS)

As with other social tariffs, there is no set minimum term and customers can leave the plan at any time without penalty.

Read more about Fair Fibre from Hyperoptic in our full review.


KCOM Flex

KCOM, or Kingston Communications, is the main and only provider in Hull. They offer a social broadband tariff, and like BT, a phone line only plan due to their responsibility as the UK's second only Universal Service provider for the telephone.

Package Broadband Monthly price Upfront price Contract term
Full Fibre Flex 30Mb average
Unlimited
£14.99 Free 30 days
Flex Phone Only N/A £5.10 Free 12 months

The KCOM Flex call plan includes 20 calls to local geographic numbers per month, plus 60 minutes of calls to 0845 or 0870 numbers. Calls beyond this allowance are then capped at £10 per month (subject to fair use).

Eligibility for KCOM Flex includes:

  • Income Support
  • Pension Credit
  • Job Seekers Allowance
  • Housing Benefit
  • Personal Independence Payment
  • Attendance Allowance
  • Universal Credit (with zero earnings)
  • Care Home residents and Lifeline customers referred via Social Services
  • Care Leavers
  • Employment and Support Allowance (EAS) (Income related)

KCOM have simplified their application process in recent months, meaning customers can now use the online Flex portal to apply rather than returning a form through the post as they used to have to do.

However, they warn customers won't be eligible if:

  • They aren't the named person on the bill
  • They can't provide evidence of their eligibility
  • They already have a telephone line from another supplier
  • They have more than one line at the same or different premises (unless they're paying the bill for a relative on a second line)
  • They have an ISDN line
  • Their line is used exclusively in connection with a burglar alarm or other monitoring services
  • They have ceased and had service re-provided in the last three months
  • Their service has been restricted because they owe KCOM money

The final point, of course, is customers must be within KCOM's traditional Hull boundaries to be able to access their services.


Now Broadband Basics

NOW Broadband offer a social tariff for both new and existing customers called Basics. Launched in April 2022, it offers 36Mb download speeds for £20 per month.

Package Broadband Monthly price Upfront price Contract term
Broadband Basics 36Mb average
Unlimited
£20 Free 30 days

Eligibility for NOW Broadband Basics includes:

  • Universal Credit
  • Pensions Credit
  • Income-based Employment Support Allowance
  • Income-base Jobseeker's Allowance
  • Income Support

While the out of contract price for the equivalent NOW Fab Fibre package is £35.50 per month, NOW Broadband Basics offers the same speed to eligible customers for only £20 per month.

Basics also offers customers flexibility to cancel at any time if they become unable to afford even the social tariff, and prices will remain fixed and won't be subject to any inflationary price rises.

NOW Broadband Basics includes a home phone line in the package, but there are no inclusive calls. However, customers can choose to add these at the standard prices.


Shell Energy Broadband Essentials

Shell Energy Broadband are the latest provider to offer a social tariff, launching three deals in August 2023.

Package Broadband Monthly price Upfront price Contract term
Essentials Fast Broadband 11Mb average
Unlimited
£15 Free 12 months
Essentials Fibre Broadband 38Mb average
Unlimited
£20 Free 12 months
Essentials Home Phone N/A £15 Free 12 months

The broadband tariffs offer average download speeds of 11Mbps and 38Mbps, and customers also get a home phone line with free calls to other Shell Energy Broadband customers.

Eligibility covers the five means-tested benefits accessible by the DWP:

  • Universal Credit
  • Pension Credit
  • Income Support
  • Employment Support Allowance
  • Jobseeker's Allowance

Both new and existing customers can apply, with no setup fees or early cancellation charges.

However, the tariffs only last for 12 months, at which point Shell Energy Broadband will notify customers that their deal is coming to an end and they can either reapply for Essentials or switch to a standard plan.

Customers who take no action will be moved onto out of contract prices which are high; £31.03 per month for Essentials Fast Broadband, £36.99 per month for Essentials Fibre Broadband, and £20.08 per month for the Home Phone only plan.


Sky Broadband Basics

Sky's social broadband tariff is only available to existing customers and offers 36Mb average download speeds and a home phone line with pay as you go calls. They've also recently added a free Sky Mobile SIM to the plan for eligible customers too.

Package Broadband Monthly price Upfront price Contract term
Broadband Basics 36Mb average
Unlimited
£20 Free 18 months

Introduced in April 2022, alongside their subsidiary NOW Broadband, eligibility criteria is also the same:

  • Universal Credit
  • Pension Credit
  • Income-based Employment Support Allowance
  • Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance
  • Income Support

Sky recently increased eligibility on the tariff to also include ESA, JSA and Income Support.

Sky Broadband Basics comes with an 18-month contract, although it isn't subject to early termination fees if customers need or want to leave early.

The package seems to be limited to just 18 months, however, with Sky saying that customers will be moved on to the standard rate for Sky Superfast 35 when their initial term is up.

The Sky Mobile plan included with the package comes with 3GB of data each month, and unlimited minutes and texts. It's worth £7 per month if purchased separately, so adds good value to Sky's tariff for struggling households.


Virgin Media Essential Broadband

Virgin Media offer two social broadband tariffs, Essential Broadband and Essential Broadband Plus.

Virgin's social tariffs are available to both new and existing customers, with eligibility recently being increased to cover more benefits.

Package Broadband Monthly price Upfront price Contract term
Essential Broadband Only 15Mb average
Unlimited
£12.50 Free 30 days
Essential Broadband Plus 50Mb average
Unlimited
£20 Free 30 days

Customers can choose from the cheaper Essential tariff costing £12.50 per month but offering just 15Mb speeds, or the faster Essential Plus tariff that costs £20 per month and has 50Mb download speeds.

Neither tariff comes with a phone line, and only Essential Plus allows customers to also take Virgin's Stream TV service. So, existing customers moving from a package with either a phone line or Virgin's standard TV 360 service would lose the services.

Eligible benefits now include:

  • Universal Credit
  • Pension Credit
  • Income Support
  • Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance (if both income and contributory-based, your income-based JSA must be higher)
  • Income-based Employment Support Allowance (if both income and contributory-based, your income-based ESA must be higher)

Virgin Media offer online eligibility checks in partnership with the Department for Work and Pensions, so apply online is quick and easy.


Vodafone Essential Broadband

Vodafone launched their Essential Broadband plan in October 2022. It offers 38Mb download speeds on either their Fibre 1 or Full Fibre 1 package depending upon where a customer lives.

Essential Broadband is currently the UK's cheapest social broadband tariff at just £12 per month, and it's available to new and existing Vodafone customers.

Package Broadband Monthly price Upfront price Contract term
Fibre 1 Essential Up to 38Mb
Unlimited
£12 Free 12 months
Fibre 2 Essential Up to 73Mb
Unlimited
£20 Free 12 months

Vodafone also recently announced a second social broadband tariff, Fibre 2 Essential, which offers fastest average download speeds of up to 73Mbps, but costs a little more at £20 per month.

Vodafone Essential Broadband has no minimum term, so customers can choose to cancel the plan whenever they wish. The plan is provided for 12 months however, at which point a customer does need to reconfirm their eligibility or move to a standard plan.

Customers who take no action after 12 months will be moved onto an out of contract price of £22 per month for Fibre 1 and £30 per month for Fibre 2.

Eligibility for Vodafone Essential Broadband includes the following benefits:

  • Universal Credit
  • Jobseekers Allowance
  • Pension Credit
  • Employment Support Allowance
  • Income Support
  • Reduced Earnings Allowance
  • Personal Independent Payments
  • Disability Allowance

While existing Vodafone broadband customers can move to the Essential plan, those on Xtra or Pro plans will lose any additional benefits and may be subject to early termination charges.

Vodafone say they do carry out credit checks on new customers applying for Essentials Broadband, but they don't specify what happens if a customer fails that check.


YouFibre Social Tariff

YouFibre are a small independent full fibre broadband provider with coverage dotted around the UK, particularly in the North East.

They offer 50Mb average download speeds for £15 per month.

Package Broadband Monthly price Upfront price Contract term
YouFibre 50 50Mb average
Unlimited
£15 Free 24 months

The YouFibre Social Tariffs are available to both new and existing customers in receipt of one of the following benefits:

  • Universal Credit
  • Income Support
  • Pension Credit
  • Income-related Job Seekers Allowance
  • Housing Benefit
  • Personal Independence Payment
  • Attendance Allowance

YouFibre say a 24-month contract applies, but if a customer becomes ineligible during the minimum term they can leave the package with 30 days' notice and no early fees will be charged.

It's possible to add a digital phone line from £3 per month, or £8 per month for unlimited UK landline calls.


Other broadband providers

The providers we've listed above are some of the biggest names in broadband offering services nationwide along with niche providers providing significant local footprints.

Some smaller broadband providers have also launched social tariffs including:

  • 4th Utility (30Mb for £13.99 per month)
  • B4RN (1Gb for £15 per month)
  • Country Connect (50Mb for £15 per month)
  • Truspeed (30Mb for £20 per month)
  • Lightning Fibre (50Mb for £15 per month)
  • Lothian Broadband (100Mb for £19.99 per month)
  • Wildanet (30Mb for £20 per month)
  • WightFibre (100Mb for £16.50 per month)

As we can see, the speeds and pricing on offer varies, but it's worth keeping an eye on whether any alternative networks in your area offer affordable tariffs to compare with the bigger names we've detailed above.

TalkTalk's Jobseeker scheme

Jobseekers may have another short-term option to get them online thanks to a joint scheme between TalkTalk and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

It's a voucher scheme that gives jobseekers six months of TalkTalk's entry-level Fibre 35 broadband for free.

At the end of the six-month period, customers can either roll onto a contract with TalkTalk or cancel the service without incurring any fees (as long as they return the equipment properly).

This broadband option is a little different to the ones we've mentioned above for several reasons:

  • Customers must be referred by their Jobcentre Plus work coach
  • It's a limited six-month voucher with no option for extension

However, this voucher scheme can bridge a gap for jobseekers who need a decent internet connection to search for work, so it's something to be aware of.

Cheap broadband options

Not everyone who struggles with household bills will be eligible for social tariffs, especially during the cost of living crisis, with inflation rising so highly.

There are very affordable broadband options available to people willing to switch providers onto new customer offers.

Here are some of the cheapest broadband plans available right now:

Package Broadband Monthly price Upfront price Contract term
Superfast Fibre 38Mb average £23.99 Free 18 months
offer Offer: Money off for 18 months
Fab Fibre 36Mb average £21 £10 12 months
offer Offer: Save £3/mth until 4 July 2024 then £24/mth + NOW TV membership available reduced for 12 months (Ends 04/07/2024)
Full Fibre 1 41Mb average £28 Free 24 months
M125 Fibre Broadband 132Mb average £26 Free 18 months
offer Offer: Reduced price: £26 per month + No setup fee (was £35)

The cheapest broadband deals in the UK vary depending on what offers are available at any given time, but it's a highly competitive market and customers will usually be able to find a decent deal.

Remember, too, that some providers like Hyperoptic and Community Fibre are only available in some areas. For the cheapest results in your area, use our broadband postcode checker.

For customers who are worried about a poor credit history stopping them getting a broadband deal, it's worth noting that not all providers require credit checks.


Social tariffs for mobile

Ofcom have previously noted in Affordability Reports the existing availability of very cheap SIM only deals mitigates any need for social mobile tariffs.

However, there are now three social tariffs available for mobile, and these are offered by Voxi, EE, and Smarty.

EE Basics

EE's social mobile tariff launched in November 2022, and offers 5GB of data for £12 per month.

The plan comes with a 30-day rolling contract, and eligibility checks last for 12-months.

Package Minutes Data Monthly price Contract term
Basics Unlimited 5GB £12 30 days

EE Basics has a small data allowance compared to VOXI's unlimited plan, yet it doesn't carry the same time limit, and will be available as long as a customer remains eligible.

Out of allowance costs are capped at £5 per month, so it's not possible for customers to rack up bills they can't afford, and the base subscription price of £12 will be excluded from any annual price rises.

Eligibility criteria for EE Basics includes:

  • Universal Credit
  • Pension Credit (Guarantee Credit)
  • Employment and Support Allowance (income-based only, or where the income-based part is higher than the contribution-based part)
  • Jobseeker's Allowance (income-based only, or where the income-based part is higher than the contribution-based part)
  • Income Support

There are two main caveats to point out with EE Basics. One is that download speeds are limited to 25Mb, which should be reasonable for mobile devices.

But also, existing EE Flex Pay can't move to EE Basics, and existing EE customers on pay monthly plans can't move until their minimum term is up.

Smarty Social Tariff

Smarty's social tariff was announced by parent company Three in February 2023.

It offers unlimited data, minutes and texts for just £12 per month for eligible benefits claimants. It also supports unlimited tethering and 5G data through Three's network.

Package Minutes Data Monthly price Contract term
Social Tariff Unlimited Unlimited £12 30 days

Eligibility criteria covers:

  • Income-based Employment Support Allowance
  • Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance
  • Income Support
  • Pension Credit
  • Universal Credit

The application process is online and Smarty have partnered with the Department for Work and Pensions for instant eligibility checks.

The plan can remain active as long as a customer is eligible, or it can be cancelled as a monthly rolling contract.


VOXI For Now

VOXI first introduced their 'For Now' tariff during the coronavirus pandemic in November 2020 to help people who had become unemployed due to Covid-19.

They relaunched it in April 2022 to help customers struggling with the cost-of-living crisis.

Package Minutes Data Monthly price Contract term
For Now Unlimited Unlimited on 5G £10 1 month

Voxi For Now is a generous tariff offering 70% off the standard VOXI unlimited plan.

The social tariff can be taken for up to six months, and is open to anyone provided they pass the eligibility check and claim one of the following benefits:

  • Jobseeker's Allowance
  • Universal Credit
  • Employment and Support Allowance
  • Disability Allowance
  • Personal Independence Payment

To streamline the process, VOXI are working with Moneyhub to enable a quick eligibility check. This is a great way of quickly finding out whether you're eligible.

After six months, customers on VOXI For Now will automatically be switched over to their £10 per month plan which includes Endless Social Media, unlimited calls and texts plus 15GB data.

Cheap mobile SIM plans

Although VOXI and EE are the only providers offering distinctive social tariffs, there are plenty of cheap SIM only tariffs available that offer some data, minutes and texts for very low monthly costs.

For example, here's a small selection of some of the cheapest SIM only plans available right now with around 3 - 6GB data, minutes and texts.

Package Minutes Data Contract term Monthly price
Spusu spusu 1 special Unlimited 1GB 1 month £2.9
ASDA Mobile Talk and Text Unlimited 0MB 1 month £4
Lebara 5GB 1000 5GB 12 months £4.5
Sky 100GB data Unlimited 100GB 12 months £5

With prices starting around £5, it's difficult to see how specific social tariffs on mobile could make things any cheaper for customers.

Where social contributions help in terms of mobile data is often when people are really struggling and could actually benefit from the free hand-outs provided by schemes like the National Databank, and pilots being offered by Virgin Media O2.

Find out more about the cheapest unlimited SIM only data plans available or learn about what to watch out for when buying a refurbished phone to go along with it.


Research on broadband affordability

Ofcom have been keeping a close eye on affordable telecoms tariffs since 2020 and have issued several updates since then.

Their most recent affordability tracker was published in May 2023 and found significant numbers of customers had affordability issues when it came to their broadband plans:

  • 29% of households surveyed had difficulty affording a communications service
  • 40% of benefits recipients and 42% of those with a disability or limiting condition struggle to afford their communications service

So, Ofcom found the most financially vulnerable customers were struggling with broadband affordability but, at the same time, they posted some alarming statistics about the take-up of social broadband tariffs:

  • Around 4.3 million households on Universal Credit could be eligible
  • Only 220,000 households are signed up to social tariffs (up from 55,000 in February 2022)

Around 5.1% of eligible customers are signed up to a social broadband tariff. While this is a decent improvement on the 1.3% reported in February, it still remains the case that millions of eligible households are not accessing these tariffs.

To understand why take-up remains so low, Ofcom conducted research and found:

  • Only 47% of eligible customers have heard of cheaper broadband plans for those on benefits
  • Only 9% who had heard of a social tariff had done so through their provider
  • 46% of those eligible say that social tariffs are not aimed at households like theirs, with a further 26% saying they don't know if they are
  • 91% of those eligible said it was important they could leave their current contract without fees, with 89% saying it's important to be able to move between contracts with their current provider when needed
  • 42% of customers were worried that social tariffs would be less likely to be reliable because they're cheaper

Ofcom's qualitative research also looked at how many eligible customers saying it was important for them to keep pay TV services for household entertainment.

Two thirds of households said this was important to them. However, moving to a social tariff will usually cut those options off.

Eligibility

The fact that those on Universal Credit are eligible for social tariffs means Ofcom can look at the type of households that are more likely to be eligible and benefit from them.

Their analysis found that eligible households were more likely to:

  • Be younger (aged between 18 and 24)
  • In larger households, with at least one child
  • Be on lower incomes, with just under half in full or part-time work
  • Have someone in the household with a condition limiting or impacting their use of communications services

Eligible consumers were also less likely to be working full time and more likely to be a single adult household than non-eligible households.

Clearly, there are many factors that mean households are eligible for Universal Credit and therefore affordable tariffs, yet it's easy to see why some customers may think they are not targeted at them if they're younger or working full time hours.

Ofcom point out too that not every household struggling with affordability issues are currently eligible for a social tariff.

For example, in their September 2022 report they said that 5% of those on the lowest incomes would not currently qualify, while 7% of those who are not eligible are concerned they won't be able to pay for their communications services in the next three months without making changes.

Recommendations

While most providers now offer a social tariff, TalkTalk was called out as yet to offer a standard social broadband tariff in Ofcom's latest affordability report.

EE Home Broadband and Plusnet also don't offer a social tariff, yet it's been made clear customers of these providers can switch to BT's Home Essential package without having to pay any early termination charges if they're still in contract.

Shell Energy Broadband have also been noted as planning to launch a social tariff in the summer of 2023.

In the case of mobile broadband, Ofcom also want providers to offer affordable tariffs too, but with Three, Vodafone and EE all launching social mobile tariffs in 2022, only O2 was urged to offer one.

Ofcom have suggested some social tariff speeds need to be faster to meet the requirements of the 62% of eligible households who need superfast broadband. They've called on Community Fibre in their latest report to increase their social tariff speed.

In addition, Ofcom also made recommendations on how providers should raise awareness of these tariffs:

  1. They should ensure the social tariff is prominent on the website
  2. They should make it easy to find on their site search and on third-party websites and Google
  3. Social tariffs should be signposted from all pages of the website where customers might be looking for help paying bills
  4. Benefits of social tariffs, such as protection from mid-contract price rises, should be more clearly outlined

Thanks to a service brought in by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), it should be possible for applicants to immediately see whether they are eligible by giving broadband providers permission to check on the DWP system.

Ultimately, Ofcom wants providers to improve awareness of social tariffs but also provide clarity about the benefits and protections they can offer.


Summary: Useful tool

Social tariffs have received more attention over the last year because more customers have found themselves in difficulty with their telecom bills.

The regulator is keen to promote affordable tariffs to eligible customers as a way of helping with the cost-of-living crisis but there are a few things to remember:

  1. Tariffs are only available to customers who can prove eligibility (and usually Universal Credit is a requirement)
  2. Some social tariffs are only available to existing customers (for example, Sky)
  3. There's no guarantee customers can be on these tariffs indefinitely and they could be switched if their circumstances change

Awareness is one of the major barriers to social tariffs, yet it could be argued that the price of them isn't much lower than the cheapest fibre deals.

That's partly why Ofcom are keen to emphasise the other benefits affordable tariffs generally offer such as no in-contract price rises and no exit fees.

Comments

Manish Shah
26 October 2022

There are no social tariffs that I am aware of for customers who do not have fibre available on their street.

Which broadband deals are available in your area?

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