If you, or a family member, are struggling with broadband or mobile phone bills this autumn, don’t miss out on the help available to save money.
Vodafone is the latest company to introduce a low-cost deal aimed at those claiming specific benefits, including universal credit, pension credit or personal independence payment (Pip). It is now the cheapest broadband offer on the market at £12 a month.
Pressure has been growing for telecoms providers to do more to support customers during the cost of living crisis by introducing flexible social tariffs.
These are broadband and mobile deals that, says Ernest Doku of the price comparison site Uswitch, are cheaper than the equivalent standard monthly rates, which means “even more customers receiving universal credit and other benefits can access essential broadband services for less”.
It is now easier to apply for the deals, too. Since August, a system introduced by the Department for Work and Pensions means providers should be able to confirm which customers can access social tariffs, removing the need for them to prove their own eligibility each month, Doku says.
The UK telecoms regulator, Ofcom, has been calling for more companies to offer social tariffs, which can save the average household almost £200 a year.
However, they have been underpromoted, with only about 120,000 of the more than 4 million people eligible taking advantage of them.
This all comes as the consumer group Which? warns that many customers are facing unaffordable bills this winter.
Broadband companies are expected to put their prices up, mid-contract, in 2023 by as much as 14%, which works out as an average of about £113 extra on top of the price you agree when you sign a one- to two-year deal, according to Which?.
A customer on a two-year contract could end up paying £156 more on their bills than they originally signed up for by the time the next round of price changes happen in 2024.
The government has asked all broadband companies to offer and promote social tariffs but they are under no obligation to do so.
As a result, there are about 10 that do, including Sky, BT, Virgin Media and Hyperoptic, with a selection of about 13 tariffs ranging from £12 a month to £25 a month – an average of £16 less than their normal packages, although with varying internet speeds.
Vodafone’s new Essentials Broadband social tariff promises download speeds of up to 38Mbps.
Hyperoptic’s £15-a-month Fair Fibre Plan offers up to 50Mbps, while for its £25-a-month tariff it is up to 150Mbps.
Vodafone charges no fee to set up the service, and the company says customers will not be subject to any mid-contract price rises during the 12 months the tariff lasts.
Eligibility for a social tariff varies from company to company, although all are available to customers on universal credit.
Vodafone, Hyperoptic, KCOM and Community Fibre, which operates in London, are some of the only companies to offer social broadband tariffs to those on Pip.
Sky and Now’s £20-a-month Broadband Basics is one of those available to people claiming pension credit, while others include attendance allowance and care leavers support in their list. But some, such as Virgin Media, which has the second-cheapest deal on the market at £12.50 a month for its Essential broadband, are restricted to only those on universal credit.
There appears to be only one brand offering a social tariff for mobile phone customers: VOXI, which operates on the Vodafone network. Its For Now tariff gives unlimited data, calls and texts for £10 a month – a deal that usually costs £35 a month – to those claiming universal credit, jobseeker’s allowance, employment and support allowance, disability living allowance or Pip.
The VOXI tariff lasts for six months, after which time you will be switched over to a £10-a-month plan, which includes “unlimited social media”, calls and texts.
However, one big criticism of social tariffs is that some customers could face steep exit penalties coming out of their existing, more expensive, deals if they switch.
If you are with a broadband provider that does offer a social tariff, you should be able to swap your deal midway through, penalty-free. However, if you are with a company that does not yet offer a social tariff, including TalkTalk, Shell, EE, Plusnet, O2 and Three, then you may face having to pay so much to terminate early that it reduces, or cancels out, the benefit.
If you are not eligible for a social tariff, you can still save by shopping around for a cheaper deal as soon as your existing one ends.
Doku says: “There are many competitively priced deals out there at the moment, such as Hyperoptic’s 30Mbps fibre broadband for £15 a month, which is the same price as its 50Mbps social tariff, or Now Broadband offering 11Mbps speeds for £18 a month.”
Matthew Upton, the director of policy at Citizens Advice, says if you are struggling to afford your internet or phone bill, always contact your provider. You may be able to negotiate. “Explain your situation to see if they can offer you a better deal.”