Social broadband tariff take-up remains low

29 September 2022 16:29   By Dr Lucy Brown, Editor

Latest telecoms affordability report from Ofcom shows a slight increase in the number of people taking social broadband tariffs.

3.2% of eligible UK households have signed up to an affordable tariff, an increase of around 2% since February 2022.

However, awareness of social tariffs remains low, with Ofcom saying 69% of benefit claimants still don't know they exist.

Ofcom also expressed disappointment that big names including Vodafone, TalkTalk and Plusnet do not yet offer affordable tariffs.

family bills worried
Credit: BearFotos/

Social tariffs

Telecoms regulator Ofcom has published a new update on affordability in the sector as a follow up to their previous report released nine months ago.

Their figures state that 3.2% of UK households eligible for a social tariff are signed up to one. This is approximately 136,000 households in total from a potential pool of 4.2 million Universal Credit recipients.

Back in February, it was around 55,000 households, meaning uptake has more than doubled in recent months following a call from Ofcom for more providers to offer such tariffs and signpost them to their customers.

Several providers have launched affordable tariffs since February with Sky and Now offering one for existing customers while Country Connect and Air Broadband's new social tariffs are also noted by Ofcom in their report.

Low awareness

Ofcom data shows that almost seven in ten eligible adults remain unaware of affordable broadband tariffs they could access.

While this is a reduction from the 84% who stated this in February's report, it still means that millions of eligible households are potentially missing out on cheaper broadband.

There are also issues around the perception of social broadband identified by Ofcom:

  • 46% of eligible adults said that social tariffs were not aimed at households like theirs, with a further 26% saying they didn't know if they were for them
  • 42% thought that the cheaper price tags of social tariffs will mean the broadband is less reliable

On this second point, qualitative research further backed up the idea that a cheaper tariff will lead to quality issues and buffering.

This isn't the case and social broadband tariffs should deliver the speeds they advertising and the same reliability as other customers experience, yet the negative perception is one that is shared by 42% of eligible households.

Future of affordable tariffs

Ofcom have been increasingly vocal in their belief that broadband providers should offer social broadband tariffs to their customers.

They estimate that around 75% of customers have access to an affordable tariff from their existing supplier, yet a quarter would still need to switch in order to benefit from one.

With that in mind, Ofcom highlighted the fact that several big names have yet to launch an affordable tariff and called for the following providers to introduce one:

  • EE
  • Plusnet
  • Shell Energy Broadband
  • TalkTalk
  • Vodafone

In addition, they were critical of social tariffs that offer speeds that are slower than superfast broadband, citing their research estimating that 62% of eligible households require superfast connections.

They singled out Virgin Media and their 15Mb Essential Broadband package, publicly urging them to increase the speeds on that plan.

Overall, while it's welcome news that uptake of social tariffs has increased over recent months, there is still a gulf between the people taking such tariffs and those who might be eligible.

Ofcom acknowledge that social tariffs are too rigid for some customers, with some households unwilling to switch to a social tariff if it meant giving up the pay TV element of their contract that serves as their entertainment.

They also recognise that a subset of households who are struggling with their communications bills yet are not eligible under the current criteria.

In August, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) announced they were making it easier for providers to check whether a household was eligible for a social tariff or not.


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