UK: 4.7m families struggled to pay telecom bills this year

Ethernet cables in the back of a router

New research from Ofcom shows that 4.7 million families struggled to pay their broadband and phone bills this year. The regulator said that BT, Virgin Media and KCOM all offer cheaper tariffs for those on lower incomes but that relatively few people had signed up.

Discussing the impact the coronavirus has had, Ofcom’s Networks and Communications Group Director Lindsey Fussell said:

“Lockdown has laid bare our dependence on a reliable internet connection. So it’s important that affordable options are available so everyone can stay connected – particularly those who have fallen on hard times.

And while we welcome the support companies have provided customers this year, some people continue to face challenges and it’s clear providers can do more to support customers who are in financial difficulty.”

Of the one in five households that struggle with their telecom bills, six per cent have a hard time paying for their fixed home broadband and five per cent find it difficult to keep up with their mobile bill. It said that one in ten households have cut back on the services they buy in order to meet costs but others have taken to reducing spend on food and clothes, cancelling a service, missing a payment, or changing their payment method.

The disconnections for non-payment fell during the first part of the lockdown but increased between June and September to levels higher than before the pandemic. Those falling behind on their payments have stayed the same between January and September at two per cent for broadband and 3 per cent for mobile.

If you struggle to pay your bills, BT, KCOM and Virgin Media all offer discounted broadband deals and 1PMobile, SMARTY Mobile, and ASDA Mobile all offer decent mobile packages at a low price point. The broadband packages for those on low incomes include:

Product Price Speed Data Eligibility
BT Basic + Broadband £10.07 a month 10 Mbit/s Unlimited Means-tested benefits (zero earnings)
Virgin Media Essential Broadband £15 a month 15 Mbit/s Unlimited Universal Credit
KCOM Lightstream Flex £20 a month 30 Mbit/s Unlimited Means-tested benefits (zero earnings)

Despite the offers for people on low incomes, Ofcom says that providers can still do more to help. It said that it wants to see all providers begin offering tariffs for those on low incomes and actively promote them so customers are aware they exist.

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