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.”
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.