A new report from Ofcom shows that around 5% of households struggle to afford their home broadband service, with millions missing out on potential savings

The cost of living in the UK is soaring, with inflation rising to a 30-year high of 5.5% and wage increases far from keeping up. In recent weeks, increases to gas bills in particular have caused outrage, with Ofgem announcing it would increase the price cap on default tariffs by 54%, adding more than $600 to average annual household bills.

Of course, the UK telecoms industry is not spared this impact of this rising inflation, with various operators announcing they will increase their ‘in contract’ prices by up to 10% this year, in line with the Consumer Price Index rate of inflation.

Naturally, this cost-of-living crisis is set to hit the UK’s most vulnerable people the hardest, with increases in costs far outstripping expected rise in benefits. 

Now, a new report from Ofcom has revealed just how severe this crisis may become for broadband consumers, showing that 1.1 million people in the UK are currently struggling to afford their monthly broadband bill.

In recent years, Ofcom has repeatedly called on the UK operators to ensure that their services are more accessible to lower income households, repeatedly threatening to introduce an industry-wide regulated social tariff if the situation was not improved.

As a result, many companies have since responded by launching special discounted broadband packages, known as ‘social tariffs’, for those currently receiving state benefits, including BT’s ‘Home Essentials’ and Virgin Media’s ‘Essential Broadband’ packages.

However, as shown in this week’s Ofcom report, uptake of these services has been markedly poor.

According to the regulator, roughly 4.2 million homes in the UK receive Universal Credit and are therefore eligible for social tariffs, yet only around 55,000 homes, 1.2% of those eligible, actually sign up for them. As a result, millions of customers are foregoing an average saving of £144 per year.

At the heart of this issue is the lack of consumer awareness that these packages even exist, with Ofcom reporting that 84% of benefit recipients did not know they were eligible for social tariffs. Ofcom is now calling on the nation’s operators to redouble their efforts to introduce and promote social tariffs across the country. 

“People rely on their broadband for staying in touch, working and learning from home. But for those who are really struggling with rising bills, every penny counts,” said Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s Network and Communications Group Director. “Special discounts can make all the difference, and too many broadband firms are failing either to promote their social tariff or to offer one at all. We expect companies to step up support for those on low incomes, and we’ll be watching their response.”

Companies that currently offer social tariffs can be found at the Ofcom website.

Since the report’s publication, BT has announced that it has made its Home Essentials service available to sign up for on the high street, as well as online, aiming to better engage with eligible consumers.

“We’re urging anyone who qualifies for our at-cost, social tariff to get in touch, whether that’s on the phone or in one of our stores, to take advantage of BT Home Essentials, which has become a lifeline for many who want to stay connected for whatever reason that may be while they are out of work or unable to work,” said BT’s Director of Customer Care, Tania Caporaso.


Are UK households at risk of being left behind due to rising broadband costs? Find out from industry specialists at this year’s live Connected Britain event