With readers reporting savings of anywhere between £20 and £60 a month on their broadband packages, we look at why more claimants aren’t switching to the social tariff.

What is social tariff broadband?

Claimants on a range of benefits are eligible for social tariff broadband deals.

All the major suppliers offer a cheaper deal if you are on Universal Credit, Pension Credit, Employment and Support Allowance, Jobseeker’s Allowance or Income Support.

Some also extend their offer to PIP claimants.

Prices range from £10 to £20 a month with speeds from 15 to 100 Mbits, depending on the supplier.

The Ofcom website has a full list of suppliers and prices, with links to their individual terms and conditions.

What is the controversy about social tariff broadband?

Only one in twenty claimants who are eligible for social tariff broadband have actually signed up, with 4.3 million potentially eligible people apparently missing out on what should be a money saving deal.

Citizens Advice (CA) is concerned that take-up is so low even though one million people have cancelled their broadband in the last year because of the cost of living, with UC claimants 12 times more likely to have done so than non-claimants.

CA believes one of the main problems is that providers are failing to tell their customers about this option.

We wanted to find out whether our readers knew about social tariff broadband and, if so, what they thought of it.  We have had almost 250 responses to an article last month on the topic.

Never heard of it

We definitely did get responses from readers who had never heard of social tariff broadband, so CA was correct that more publicity is needed. 

“I'm on high PIP and support group ESA and I've never even heard of this!. I'm with BT

 This is the first that I have heard about a social tariff broadband? How does one apply for it? Do I just phone the DWP or do I phone my current provider? Thanks.”

Happy customers

One grateful reader signed up to BT Essentials after reading our article and is now saving an extraordinary £60 a month as a result.

“I've been paying £83/month for 250MB cable broadband with landline bundle.  Didn't know anything about this offer until reading the newsletter. Just changed to  50MB "essential" broadband for £20/month (rising to £28/month after 14 months). They won't allow me to keep the landline, but since 99% of the incoming calls are from scammers I'll not be sad to see the back of it.  Thanks for the information.”

This wasn’t the only happy customer we heard from either, there were actually a lot of positive responses.

"I had no issues switching with BT it was just a quick online form and have had a perfectly respectable speed since and no loss of service. I live in a rural location so need reliable broadband which so far, 6 months in, this has been. I’m saving £40 a month. My credit score has not been affected. All good."

We changed from full fibre cost with BT to BT social tariff and I will be totally honest we have not noticed any difference between the two apart from the cost. Was paying £52 a month to now paying £20 a month. We are in a small town with fibre so that might be why there is no difference.”

 “I also have the BT social tariff at £20 a month unlimited broadband and free calls any time. I was paying £40 + for exactly the same, without free calls. So in my opinion it is great. I found out about via Martin Lewis Show. No issues streaming etc, speeds are as before.”

 “I switched to BT home phone & Broadband after a BT engineer mentioned it to me during a visit , he actually said "they don't really want people to know about social tariffs" £20 per month and it is the best service provided i have EVER had!”

 “I think personally it’s mostly awareness. I signed up for the same contract I was on previously with BT, no change in speeds, customer services etc. and now save £12 a month. I’m really pleased with it!”

“I signed up for BT’s Social Tariff last year, my previous Broadband provider was terrible, overpriced and virtually no internet speed. I spent a while looking through ‘Social Tariffs’ listed on Ofcom’s website, most were unavailable to me because they only served certain areas.

Reluctantly I signed up with BT (had problems with them years ago, vowed never to return) surprisingly I’m bowled over with the service after a little hiccup to begin, needed an Engineer to connect my service at the local exchange. Customer Services were incredibly helpful. Don’t be afraid to ask them everything you need to especially any hidden extra charges during the set-up phase.”

 “My Mum gets pension credit. She is on the social tariff with BT. She is on full fibre with 2 free digital phones for just £15 per month.”

 “Hi all, I've recently arranged a package for a family member and I opted for the Vodafone Essentials deal. It's only £12 a month and you get 38mbps. This person lives alone, doesn't play games or download large files but does stream a lot, apart from general use of Google, YouTube etc. 38mbps is more than adequate for their needs. Sky advise that to stream in high definition you only need 5mbps. Paying any more for a faster connection would be a complete waste of money and they've never had any issues since switching.”

 “I changed 6 months ago, it’s a no brainer. Speeds are perfectly acceptable for streaming films and tv. Can’t understand why anybody would want to pay full price, it was so easy to change over, no fees or loss of service. Same with the water bill, that’s been halved by applying for their social fund.”

 “I signed up for a Social Tariff last year and not only was it simple (with BT) but I had the unexpected bonus of 700 minutes free l/line telephone minutes per month. That's useful when trying to contact organisations which not only have long 'wait' times to answer calls but then take one through multiple options to access the appropriate extension. Download and Upload speeds are steady and reliable - fast enough, for example, to use a 'Firestick' without much 'buffering'.”

Discouraged from switching

However, for every happy switcher we heard from, there was another reader who had tried to swap to social tariff and been misled or discouraged by their telecoms provider.  This seemed to be a much bigger issue than not knowing about the tariff in the first place.

“I’ve recently switched from EE to BT home essentials but it wasn’t easy. I knew from moneysavers that there should be no termination fee but when I phoned I was told otherwise. I asked them to check twice and they asked their manager and I was still told I was wrong. It was only when I requested how much the charge would be and they phoned through to accounts that the no termination fee was agreed.  However, my final bill from EE included a termination fee. Another phone call got this cancelled but it would have been so easy to have given up. I’m happy I persevered - the service from my new internet is fantastic and the engineer who came to fit it was brilliant.”

 “I heard about "social tariffs" and spoke to Vodafone about it. Alas and alack the worker to whom I spoke had not heard about this and essentially informed me that I am in a binding contract, yadda, yadda, yadda.”

 “I am so shocked to read this article! I was contacted about starting a new tariff around the time of the price hikes and she insisted I start a new 24 month contract. I specifically asked about the social tariff as I receive ESA and PIP. She said it would be £20 but I couldn't get the same package, e.g. 67mbs internet and pay as you go calls. I've just looked and according to your figures I could have got exactly that, maybe not the same name of the package but all the same details.”

 “I wasn't told it was available with Vodafone, they just want get sales, when I did find out I was going to have to pay a leaving fee. No savings.”

 “I made enquiries about the reduced broadband cost to my provider Virgin and they told me if I was to accept the cheaper deal it would be ridiculously slow. I live in a village where at times my broadband is quite slow even though I pay for the fastest speed!  I was thoroughly put off by virgin to apply for it so for obvious reasons I didn’t . It would have been so much help financially and very beneficial to me as I live on my own and getting out and about to access services and facilities is a very daunting experience for me especially physically.”

So, it seems that whilst CA is right that some people don’t know about the scheme, even customers who do can find it very difficult to insist on their rights with some providers.

Can’t get it

Sadly for some people, the offer simply doesn’t seem to be available.

 “I’ve heard about social broadband tariffs but they aren’t going to apply to me. I live with parents. Mum pays the broadband for the household.”

 “I wanted to sign up for BT's social tariff broadband, but it is only available with line rental included.  I live with my parents and the phone line is theirs, I have a separate broadband contract (my parents don't use the internet).  So I can't take up this service.” 

 “My ESA is legacy contribution based (after nearly 10 years, still!). So I can't get the tariff.  Even though I haven't "contributed" since 2014.”

Better off without it

Some of our readers saw no point to social broadband or were very wary of giving information about their benefits to private sector companies.

 “Why on earth would I go to an expensive social tariff when my three broadband is cheaper, quicker and more responsive to customers. The social tariffs are a con, pure and simple“

 “I will not use that tariff because they demand your national insurance number (bt & ee) which is wrong on so many levels & They demand it, without allowing benefits proof any other way.”

 “I dont want private companies knowing im on low income / disability benefits and making the information available for organisations to misuse, eg; lowering credit score, discrimination, etc”

 “I switched to mobile broadband (via my smartphone hotspot) in 2011 and I have never looked back. This was due to living in Hull where KC Communications held the monopoly and were consequently pretty expensive with no competition to get better deals.”

 “Even when moving to a new location I never bothered with a fixed line. I just didn't see the point in paying for a mobile AND fixed line. It's probably saved me £5000 in 12 years (including the electricity costs of leaving the Wi-Fi box switched on). Now with the advances in mobile technology to 5G etc a fixed line is even less necessary. It also saves having extra wires and equipment (aka clutter!) in the home, not to mention reducing previously mentioned electricity costs. A major consideration now prices are sky high!”

Too slow and too basic

Overwhelmingly, though, the main reason people told us they didn’t plan to switch to social tariff broadband was simply because they saw it as too slow and the packages as too limited for their needs. 

Our first poster below compared the tariff to the “bubble cars” that disabled people were given rather than ordinary cars.  (For those too young to remember, you can read about trikes here).

If the social tariff was simply standard broadband packages at a subsidised rate, it would go much further to ending the growing digital divide.

“The social tariffs just need to be the same packages as standard but with a reduced cost. Currently they offer paltry speeds with no TV or phone options. Why would someone switch to these? It's the equivalent of the 1970s bubble cars for disabled motorists. We want the same as normal, just help or concessions to get it due to the financial impact of being unwell. Its pretty obvious why there isn't much take up.”

“I'm with Vodafone Broadband (FTTP) as a regular customer, I get 900Mb for £34 a month (just gone up from £30). Why on Earth would I switch to paying £20 for a small fraction of the speed?”

“The reason we haven't taken up the offer is because the service they are offering is poor compared to the one we pay full price for. We are a family of two physically disabled adults and two children. We rely on technology and smart devices to make our lives easier. As we cannot go outside much, our hobbies are gaming, streaming music and TV series and we also study online. The social tariffs are not suitable for us. For us, it is worth it - for now while we can afford it - to pay the higher cost as we are so dependant on a good connection. If I had no other option due to finances I would obviously take up the offer!”

“I'm on pip and looked into this but the speeds were too slow. It was a basic version but hubby works from home teaching lessons online, and I have a ten year old stepson and myself who's only joy as a housebound person with a disability is a limited amount of gaming on the PlayStation, so we just can't deal with slow speeds!”

 “Tried the social tariff, changed back after a week because it was so poor we couldn't connect two phones at the same time.”

 “My provider is Virgin and, whilst they do offer a social tariff, it would be a fraction of the speed I get now.  I get 130mbps and I believe its only around 15mbps which is nowhere near fast enough for my needs.”

 “Too slow for me, I cannot cope with waiting an hour for adobe to do each update...”

 “Even if I am eligible for one of these social tariffs, which I doubt (PIP and NS ESA), they simply don’t offer effective download speeds or coverage.”

 “It doesn't include enough services such as films. It is a very basic service.”

 “The lack of a full package is the reason. If you're elderly and disabled the TV and computer are a lifeline what's the use of having broadband only if you haven't got a cheap TV package to go with it.”

Is it right for you?

If you are a relatively light broadband user, just surfing and streaming videos, then there’s a very good chance that you could save money and have an entirely acceptable service using social tariff broadband.  But be prepared, you may have to have  a fight with your provider before you can switch.

But if you live in a household that is a heavy user of services or relies on online gaming for entertainment, then it may be that the available packages won’t meet your needs.

It’s definitely worth visiting the Ofcom site and checking what is currently available, though, it may be better than you expect.

Comments

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  • Thank you for your comment. Comments are moderated before being published.
    me · 9 months ago
    I pay £25 for 1 Gbps upload and download in London from Community Fibre, They are very good fast, and cheap
  • Thank you for your comment. Comments are moderated before being published.
    lee · 11 months ago
    they need to offer disounts for full fiber packages (the higher speeds over 100megs for example) these social tarrifs only apply to much slower speeds, which is unaceptable
  • Thank you for your comment. Comments are moderated before being published.
    David Lewis · 11 months ago
    I can't get a line installed. I've had 3 engineer visits, each with a different excuse. I haven't heard from BT for over a month.
  • Thank you for your comment. Comments are moderated before being published.
    Krystian · 11 months ago
    I don't get that the majority of people say it's too slow, perhaps in some areas the infrastructure means the social tariff is not good.
    I guess I'm lucky in that I have Fibre to the PRemises installed from when I moved to my home.  I switched to the social tariff in 2020 I think after CAB told me to.  I get 75Mb down and about 30Mb up.  If I have 4 devices (like consoles) downloading massive files and streaming at the same time then I can't stream above 1080p, but all my PS5 and Xbox Series games come down in a couple of hours and some of these are ridiculous now.  Mine included the landline and then through an offer after a year I added netflix and now tv for an extra 10 a month
    I'm a heavy technology guy and our household is full of smart devices and smart home stuff, I saw the quote above about 900Mb, I agree for an extra 10 I would stick with virgin, but its very unlikely that most households need even 100Mb unless they have 4 x 4k TV's all streaming separate services at the same time and others using their phones and laptops etc
    I've saved over 600 pounds the past couple of years by switching to the tariff, might not be right for some, but if you have good standard fibre broadband on something like the BT Halo etc you can just switch down and you'll probably not notice the difference.
  • Thank you for your comment. Comments are moderated before being published.
    Chrissy · 11 months ago
    I switched from UW to the BT social tariff for digital voice (landline & Broadband). It will have saved me £25 a month. I say will as it took BT 79 days (yes 79 days) to get my digital voice activated. Obviously I got compensation but not after ringing them every 3-4 days. 

    I wouldn’t recommend BT to anyone as a result of my experience. 
  • Thank you for your comment. Comments are moderated before being published.
    MrFibro · 11 months ago
    Well it just goes to show, how much ISP's are actually ripping off joe public.  Typical UK braodband is pathetically slow, and the bandwidth is dire too, and joe public pay high prices for an outdated backward system.

    Other countries are light years ahead of our communications systems.

    Everyone should be getting blazing gigabyte connections 24*7 unlimited unlimited unlimited.

    Once again and has been for decades now that greed is still rampant, more than a pandemic ever could be.
  • Thank you for your comment. Comments are moderated before being published.
    denby · 11 months ago
    "Amrit · 1 days ago
    Searching the social tariff should start from a name of a benefit claimed. All providers have different criteria!! "

    Please could B&W put Amrit's idea to Ofcom, as I tried the link, and didn't get anywhere. We are in the situation of oldie enough to have lifetime max DLA. and this doesn't seem to be mentioned anywhere. Ok it is not means tested but neither is PIP. So benefit-name searching for cheaper tariffs is a must.
  • Thank you for your comment. Comments are moderated before being published.
    Tom Cassidy. · 11 months ago
    I enquired with Vodafone about their 35mg  social tarriff broadband at £12 a month  and was told i would have to go through a credit check like a regular package.I myself am currently an undischarged bankrupt so that was a waste of time but then i thought how many people on benefits are going to have a good credit score? Laughable...the fact i am a customer of theirs via my mobile phone didnt help either.Some of the criteria is quite restrictive on these deals i found.
  • Thank you for your comment. Comments are moderated before being published.
    Sabrina · 11 months ago
    I have asked three times now to be put on this and each time BT have basically changed the subject! Currently they have put me on a pay as you go landline, which I asked not to have, I am close to despair with them!
  • Thank you for your comment. Comments are moderated before being published.
    Lorraine Anning · 11 months ago
    Hi thanks to reading about this tariff I contacted BT. I already have a broadband and mobile package with them. I receive pension credit. Within minutes I changed packages. I had to give up my BT Sim for an EE Sim at more cost than I pay now but have got unlimited landline calls. I don’t use my landline only for my emergency call system. Overall it would seem to be a saving of about £23 a month. I rely on the internet for everything so am hoping the service will be as good as my previous one. 
    Thank you for mentioning this otherwise I would not have known about it.
  • Thank you for your comment. Comments are moderated before being published.
    denby · 11 months ago
    Funnily enough I came across this very topical petition today, which I've signed.
    Hope it is ok to post this.
  • Thank you for your comment. Comments are moderated before being published.
    Judith · 11 months ago
    I tried with BTand was told most definitely that even though I am on the highest PIP rate I do not qualify!!! 
  • Thank you for your comment. Comments are moderated before being published.
    Kat Cohen · 11 months ago
    The thing about your credit score; each time you pay a bill on time, whatever it is, it's a plus for you, my score went UP last month, though I fully get everyone has different views and circumstances
    Personally I'm very happy with my BT social tariff and have had no problems, and I live in a Welsh village!
  • Thank you for your comment. Comments are moderated before being published.
    Carol · 11 months ago
    I have been on BT Home Essentials for 3 years i only pay the £15 a month tariff, never found it slow at all. 
  • Thank you for your comment. Comments are moderated before being published.
    Mark · 11 months ago
    Overall it was worth doing saving £35 per month, with an increase in speed without a need for an engineers visit. Clearer phone calls and the functionality of a second line as well as a free call allowance included in the price. It is more than fast enough for multiple hd on demand programmes streamed at the same time or downloading the biggest system or app updates. Most of the time the limit is the speed of the site you are downloading from.
    The downside was it was more difficult to transfer than should have been. It could not be done all online it needed phone calls as well. This delayed transferring while I found someone to make the calls for me. This was transferring from plusnet to BT. Plusnet had no social tariff despite being owned by BT so was forced to transfer to BT. There were also problems with the delivery of phone and router due to the postal chaos meaning I was without service for a week even though the connection and line had already been transferred.
    You will no longer have a physical phone line your number is transferred to an IP phone line which will happen to all existing phone lines in the next couple of years anyway. Existing phone equipment (including text phones)can still be used by plugging into the back of the router. The router you do have to pay a fee for but is worth it as you then save on the cost of line rental. The phone line is hd quality, can be diverted to a mobile for free and also be linked to Alexa for alerts etc.
    Even though my phone was with a different phone company BT took care of all the transfer automatically. What I did have to do was claim back a refund for the line rental that I had been over charged.
    One critical thing was BT stopped including email in their new broadband package in October last year. So by transferring I lost having a secure pop email address despite transferring from a company owned by BT. Any internet package needs to include a secure email address especially as we become more dependent email communications when dealing with any official government department.
  • Thank you for your comment. Comments are moderated before being published.
    Kate · 11 months ago
    I am a pensioner and £3 over the limit for pension credit so I can't get any help I've been told. 
  • Thank you for your comment. Comments are moderated before being published.
    Dean · 11 months ago
    I attempted to sign up for a social tarrif broadband, after two engineers attended my property and for one reason or another failed to install the line, I then made complaints and was discriminated against, leading to me making an out of court settlement of £1000, but dispite that, they didn't learn their lesson, because they then when on to fail to make a reasonable adjustment. So I've given up on them now. 
  • Thank you for your comment. Comments are moderated before being published.
    Susan · 11 months ago
    I switched to BT home essentials over a year ago when they launched it. I have no problems at all with the £20 package, including land-line.
    Infact it's much faster and far more reliable than my former provider and £15 cheaper per month. 
    I definatly recommend it. 
  • Thank you for your comment. Comments are moderated before being published.
    Janet Ambrose · 11 months ago
    My brother and sister who I care for are on benefits but because the bt account is in my name we can't have social tariff 
  • Thank you for your comment. Comments are moderated before being published.
    John H. · 11 months ago
    One drawback in applying for Social Broadband from Virgin Media is that landline telephone is not included in the package. Anyone wanting to preserve their landline will have extra to pay on top of the Social Broadband fee, making the deal less attractive.
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