Broadband on benefits: how BT Basic can help
Line rental costs have shot through the roof over the past few years.
The biggest providers charge about £19, and most of the competition isn't far behind.
It's enough to put the poorest households off altogether.
But while it's worth noting that there are lots of sneaky ways to cut costs, for those in receipt of Government support there's one big way: BT Basic.
BT Basic: the basics
Basic is a social tariff which the telecoms provider runs at a loss in order to meet their Universal Service commitment.
Basic aims to keep phones ringing in the most vulnerable households by charging as little as possible: £5.10 a month.
Who can get it?
Anyone who receives one of the following could get BT Basic:
- Income support
- Income based Jobseeker's allowance (JSA)
- Guaranteed pensions credit
- Income based Employment and Support Allowance
- Universal Credit, with zero earnings
Note there are a few exceptions.
While most phone lines in the UK are BT-compatible, some - like those used by Virgin Media, for example - aren't, and therefore won't be able to get BT Basic. In this situation, BT are willing to install a line, usually free of charge.
However, those with more than one phone line, whether they're at the same or different addresses, can't get BT Basic unless they're also registered as being Chronically Sick and Disabled by the local authority.
This is largely to weed out the roughly 40% of people who were on BT's old Light User scheme because they had second homes, rather than low incomes.
Business and temporary lines are also exempted.
People with phone lines that can only receive calls, or that are only used for burglar alarms, also can't get BT Basic.
Universal Credit: rule change
As mentioned above, customers receiving Universal Credit - the single payment for job seekers and those on low income - are only eligible if they have zero earnings.
BT say this means the "claimant has no earnings from employment or self employment during the assessment period for their benefit".
Anyone who's taking advantage of the flexibility offered by UC to take on a couple of hours of work here and there will therefore find they're probably not able to get Basic.
As UC is a working age benefit, pensioner eligibility remains unaffected.
What's included for £5.10
Basic customers get a £1.50 allowance for calls to standard UK landlines, 07 and 08 numbers, and international calls, with a monthly price cap of £10 on additional calls to these numbers (subject to fair use).
To get an idea of how much usage £1.50 gets us: BT Basic customers pay 11.3p per minute, plus a connection fee of 3.3p for calls to UK landlines - which means they could use their full allowance by making just one 13-minute call.
What seems a little unfair is that the per minute charge is more expensive than standard BT customers pay - BT's standard call charges only rose to 11p per minute in summer 2016 - but Basic's call connection fee is still a fraction of the standard rate.
BT Basic customers pay the same rate for calls to mobiles, 08 and international numbers as standard BT customers. Calls to mobiles therefore cost 13.65p per minute; the cost of 08 and international calls will vary depending on the organisation or destination.
Calls to 0845 and 0870 numbers are free at weekends, as long as they don't exceed 60 minutes in length, or are for dial-up internet services.
Basic customers also get access to Call Barring. They'll also be signed up free of charge to BT Privacy with Caller Display.
Although benefiting from Caller Display requires a compatible handset, the privacy part includes automatic registration with the Telephone Preference Service, which should help cut down on the number of nuisance calls users receive.
As mentioned above, those who don't have a phone line but who are eligible for the package, should be able to get the line installed and connected free of charge - a saving of up to £130.
BT say the only time a Basic customer may need to pay a connection fee is if there are "exceptional circumstances that involve special equipment or work".
They say they'll tell a customer about such charges before agreeing to go ahead with that work.
And what's not...
During the week 0845/0870 numbers aren't included in the call allowance, so they'll cost extra.
Unlike other landline and mobile customers, people with BT Basic don't pay any access charges for calls made to "service numbers" - those starting 09 and 118, and all other 084 and 087 numbers.
But they will still attract a per minute service charge - see our guide to how service numbers are charged for, here, for more detail.
Calls to the operator aren't included.
There's nothing to stop users from signing up to cost-cutting phone services such as override services for international calls, but they're also exempt from the inclusive calls allowance.
That means that however much the call costs using the override service, that amount will be added onto the caller's monthly bill, and they won't be subject to the £10 cap.
Basic users also have to wave goodbye to add-ons like Friends & Family.
Basic and broadband
Happily, though, Basic line rental still allows for a broadband connection.
The broadband part of BT Basic + Broadband costs £4.85 per month, or £14.55 on top of line rental every three months - equivalent to paying £9.95 a month for phone and broadband.
It's limited to 12GB usage per month - enough to browse online for 30 minutes each day, stream up to 12 hours of video or up to ten albums, or download one standard definition movie, each month.
|Package||Broadband||Contract term||Upfront cost||Monthly price|
|Basic Broadband||Up to 17Mb
|No minimum term||£9.95||£9.95 inc line rental|
Customers will receive an email warning them when they approach the data limit.
Those who go over will be charged another £1.80 for every 1GB unit they use - so someone using an extra 0.9GB will be charged £1.80, and someone using 1.2GB more than their allowance will be charged £3.60.
Basic customers do get free access to BT Wi-fi, the network of about five million public wi-fi hotspots around the UK, however - so those getting close to their limit could always make use of a nearby cafe's connection for a little extra browsing.
Do I get much choice?
Once upon a time customers could stick with BT for the cheap line rental but go elsewhere for broadband.
But many of the cheapest ISPs expect customers to take their home phone line as well as their broadband service.
Plusnet's broadband without phone costs £13.49 a month, giving a total of £18.59 including BT's basic line rental (check availability here). It's more expensive than BT's basic broadband option above, but does offer unlimited downloads.
Back when they were still Primus, Fuel used to offer line rental for up to 70% cheaper than BT and the other big providers, but now they charge £17.60 a month.
That higher line rental is compulsory for those who want to sign up to Fuel's unlimited broadband, which costs just £6 a month - giving a total monthly bill of £23.60 a month.
It used to be the case that trying to mix and match BT Basic with another provider's broadband would almost always end up costing more than using BT's standard service - but it's now a genuinely useful, if somewhat limited, option to explore.
For more on BT broadband in general, see our full review here.
Basic or Light User?
Note that BT's similarly discounted Light User scheme does not allow customers to take broadband in addition to their cheaper phone line.
Basic replaced Light User way back in 2008, but it's possible that some customers are still on the old system.
If that's the case, the solution should be pretty simple: just ask BT to be moved to Basic. They should have done so already in any case.
Is it worth it?
All in all, Basic isn't a knockout in terms of generosity but it is a good way to save some money and stay in touch.
It's probably worth checking whether the service will be too restrictive, and whether there are more suitable options available at a reasonable price elsewhere.
What is good, however, is that there isn't a minimum contract period for BT Basic customers - so those who qualify but then find it is too restrictive can leave at any time.
They won't be hit with any kind of penalty payments, such as early termination fees or broadband cease charges - as long as they settle what they owe.
As we noted above, Basic customers don't really benefit from money savers such as services that offer low international rates, and as we pointed out above, staying within the £1.50 allowance means making very little in the way of outgoing calls.
Cheaper than the alternatives?
Bundling broadband and phone
Take a look at our comparison table of the cheapest broadband and landline deals on the market here.
At the time of this update, there are introductory offers for unlimited broadband that give a basic total monthly bill from £20, with weekend calls thrown in.
For those determined not to bundle, as we mentioned above, Plusnet Unlimited Broadband is £13.49 a month. Add on BT Basic at £5.10 and that's £18.59 a month. But Plusnet do charge more in the most rural areas, so check first.
Going without a home phone
Going without a phone line altogether is also becoming an increasingly popular option and for those already locked into a mobile contract it might work out considerably cheaper.
We covered this issue in more depth here.
How to apply
Those who do decide to go for Basic will need to apply by post.
Give BT a ring on 0800 800 864 between 8am and 6pm on a weekday and they'll send out a form.
The form asks for home details - in order to supply the service - and for date of birth and National Insurance number to confirm benefits.
There's no need to go through any of the time consuming benefits forms again.
People thinking about applying who haven't yet started receiving benefits, or who are unsure about eligibility in the short term, should hold off applying, or talk to the BT Basic advisers about their situation on the number above.
BT say that if they reject someone for the Basic package, they'll provide information about alternative options; rejected applicants may also find they need to wait at least six months before they can try again.
For more information see BT's site here.