Virgin Media O2 has become the first ISP top sign up to a new government scheme to make it easier for low-income households to access affordable broadband.
The scheme will allow ISPs, with a customer’s permission, to check if they are on any benefits that could see them qualify for discounted service.
While many providers do already offer “social tariffs” customers are required to frequently prove their entitlement, sometimes as often as every month, with details of their benefit entitlement or a letter from the Job Centre. This seems likely to be a factor in the low take-up rate of just 1.2 per cent of eligible customers actually applying.
Research from consumer group Which? has also suggested that ISPs do not do enough to promote the existing cheaper tariffs. Its director of policy and advocacy, Rocio Concha, said: “It is unacceptable that broadband providers aren’t doing more to make customers aware of social tariffs – meaning millions of households who may be struggling to make ends meet could be missing out on hundreds of pounds of savings.”
Alex Tofts, broadband expert at comparison site Broadband Genie, sounded a note of caution about existing social tariffs. He said: “The digital divide is a growing problem and one issue preventing people from getting online can be the cost of broadband. But a significant amount of people eligible for these social tariffs have yet to take advantage of the help available.
“These special tariffs can offer exceptional value for money. However, customers should be wary that some of these products may come with limitations that make them unsuitable. We recommend that anyone considering a social tariff takes the time to compare it against regular broadband offers to ensure they’re getting the best deal possible.”
The government’s recently appointed cost-of-living tsar, former Just Eat boss David Buttress, said: “Times are tough and families across the country are feeling the pinch, so we’re making it easier for companies to reduce phone and broadband bills for struggling families.”
Buttress added that he hoped more providers would now follow Virgin Media O2’s example.