Internet access has quickly become a necessity in modern life, and as technology evolves and the industry continues innovating, it is understandable that the demand for digital skills is also increasing. It’s because of this that most people would consider internet access an essential service.

However, not everyone can afford to pay for it.

Un-employed and low-income families have considerably worse digital skills than the rest of the population, and when you consider the effects of rising living costs combined with the ever-increasing developments in the digital world, the digital divide only continues to grow further apart.

The ‘Digital divide’ is a term that describes the digital skills gap that separates those that have little to no computer/internet access and technical knowledge with those that have frequent computer/internet access and sufficient digital skills.

To combat this growing issue, affordable broadband needs to be readily available for all.

Social Tariffs for broadband

This is why Ofcom, the UK’s communications regulator, introduced social tariffs for broadband, which aims to provide broadband services at cheaper prices to those claiming qualifying benefits in the UK.

Several broadband providers in the UK offer varying deals that are verified by Ofcom as being social tariffs. These deals tend to provide the same things as a standard broadband offer, just at a reduced price, and only available to those claiming certain benefits.

Social tariffs for broadband lower monthly broadband costs from an average of around £27 a month, down to somewhere between £10 and £20 a month, allowing claimants to save up to £144 a year. These savings can greatly benefit those on lower incomes that are looking to cut costs.

BT/EE, Openreach, Virgin Media, Sky, TalkTalk, O2, Vodafone, Three, Hyperoptic, Gigaclear, and KCOM have all agreed the following commitments:

  • All providers have committed to working with customers who find it difficult to pay their bill as a result of Covid-19 to ensure that they are treated fairly and appropriately supported.
  • All providers will remove all data allowance caps on all current fixed broadband services.
  • All providers have agreed to offer some new, generous mobile and landline packages to ensure people are connected and the most vulnerable continue to be supported. For example, some of these packages include data boosts at low prices and free calls from their landline or mobile.
  • All providers will ensure that vulnerable customers or those self-isolating receive alternative methods of communication wherever possible if priority repairs to fixed broadband and landlines cannot be carried out.

However, not all of these companies have implemented a social tariff system yet and it has been noted that many of these companies are doing very little to market and inform customers of these deals. This has led to Ofcom intervening to ensure that the broadband companies try to do more to make the offer visible and to make customers more aware.

Who is eligible?

These deals are offered to those claiming certain benefits.

However, customers should be aware that some deals are only offered to those living in specific regions in the UK. On top of that, certain deals are only available to pre-existing customers of the company providing the offer.

The following is a list of currently available affordable tariffs.

ProviderNationwide coverage?Available to new customers?Required benefits
Home EssentialsYesYesVarious benefits
Community FibreLondon OnlyYesNone
Country ConnectPonthir and Caerleon, South Wales onlyYesVarious benefits
G.NetworkLondon onlyYesVarious benefits
HyperopticYesYesVarious benefits
KCOMHull, East Yorkshire, and North Lincolnshire onlyYesVarious benefits
NOWYesYesUniversal Credit or Pension Credit
SkyYesNoUniversal Credit or Pension Credit
Virgin MediaYesYesUniversal Credit
VOXI (Mobile Plan)YesYesVarious benefits

The best way for homeowners to find out if they are eligible to take advantage of social tariffs, would be to get in touch with the companies that provide them or to visit their respective websites.

How can someone apply?

To get a social tariff deal, homeowners must first choose which offer is best suited to them. They will be prompted by the chosen company site to do an eligibility check to determine whether or not the offer is available to the claimant. Once the claimant has requested the offer, the company will verify the details entered with the Department for Work and Pensions, after which the claimant will be able to complete their order.

How effective are social tariffs?

The current state of the working world demands most employees have good digital skills, but without access to internet, this becomes extremely difficult. That’s why it is so important for low-income homes to have access to affordable broadband, so that the digital skills gap doesn’t continue to widen. What’s more, with so many people in need of ways to make savings, offers such as this should not be missed, especially by those struggling to get by on benefits.

However, despite the fact that there are around 4.2 million people in the UK registered on Universal Credit as of February 2022, according to Ofcom, very few are taking advantage of a social tariff.

Ofcom reported that in January 2022 only 55,000 homes in the UK were on social tariffs, equating to just 3% of those that are eligible. Ofcom also reported that a staggering 84% of homes were unaware that these tariffs were even available.

They also reported that the average out of work universal claimant spends £27 a month on broadband which equated to 8.3% of their disposable income, whereas on a standard social tariff, they would only be spending around £15 a month or 4.6% of their disposable income – almost half the amount.

The importance and impact of social tariffs

Social tariffs can be considered a piece of the solution towards eliminating fuel poverty. They allow claimants to decrease expenses on their disposable income, leaving them more money to spend on food, heating, rent and other essential costs. This drastically reduces the financial and mental strain on vulnerable households.

This data shows that more effort needs to be made to help lower income homes take advantage of the savings that can be made on social tariffs. Additionally, more broadband providers need to provide social tariff options and those that already do need to do more to market and raise awareness for their social tariff packages, as well as improving the packages to make them more accessible.