The largest internet service providers in the UK have agreed to reduce the prices of their cheapest plans in a bid to help their most vulnerable customers combat the ongoing cost-of-living crisis.
At a summit held at Downing Street, ISPs and telcos including BT, Openreach, Virgin Media O2, Vodafone, Three, TalkTalk and Sky all agreed to introduce several measures to support poorer customers. The measures, which will take effect immediately, include removing penalty charges for struggling customers who wish to move to a cheaper deal, and supporting flexible payment plans if necessary.
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Internet providers have also pledged to support customers who may be struggling with the rising cost of living and to treat them with understanding, making an explicit commitment to prioritise protecting the connectivity of customers known to be vulnerable.
As part of efforts to address this issue, the government has already negotiated the introduction of 'social tariffs', which slash the cost of broadband and mobile packages for customers claiming Universal Credit. These plans can reduce internet bills by up to 50% compared to the average annual broadband cost, and some plans are as low as £10 per month.
However, less than 2% of eligible customers are on social tariffs, and part of the newly-agreed commitments from ISPs is a commitment to promote these deals more widely and improve their value in order to increase uptake. The government has also encouraged providers that don't yet offer social tariffs to introduce them.
“Families across the country face increased anxiety about keeping up with bills," said digital secretary Nadine Dorries, "so today I agreed with broadband and mobile industry bosses what more can be done to support people during this difficult time. I’m pleased to report the industry is listening and has signed up to new commitments offering customers struggling with the cost-of-living help to stay connected.”
Dame Clare Moriarty, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “We’re pleased to see these pledges to help those who are struggling most with their broadband and mobile bills. This must progress to tougher, permanent protections.”
“People bearing the brunt of the cost-of-living crisis often face the dreadful choice between heating or eating. For many, paying to get online is no longer even a possibility,” she added. “Yet we still see too many examples of sharp practice like overcharging loyal customers, inflation busting mid-contract price rises and a shockingly low take up of social tariffs. So, this is by no means job done.”
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Rene Millman is a freelance writer and broadcaster who covers cybersecurity, AI, IoT, and the cloud. He also works as a contributing analyst at GigaOm and has previously worked as an analyst for Gartner covering the infrastructure market. He has made numerous television appearances to give his views and expertise on technology trends and companies that affect and shape our lives. You can follow Rene Millman on Twitter.