With the UK’s third lockdown taking its toll, are operators really doing enough to support vulnerable customers?

One in six people are struggling to afford broadband during the third lockdown, research from Citizens Advice has revealed. The survey also found that during the first lockdown, certain groups, including people with children, disabled people, people from Black, Asian or ethnic minority backgrounds, those who were shielding and young people were particularly struggling with their broadband bill. It also found that broadband customers in receipt of low-income benefits such as Universal Credit were almost twice as likely to struggle to pay their bill as other customers. This comes as more people than ever require a stable internet connection to work and teach their children.

Worryingly, however, despite an estimated 2.3 million people falling behind on their broadband bills, Citizens Advice’s research found that just three of the largest broadband providers offer cheaper tariffs to low income households.

“The fact that one in six households are struggling to afford broadband is shocking and a very worrying sign of the times," commented Anita Dougall, CEO and Founding Partner at data consultancy Sagacity. "There are a couple of elements at play here though: firstly, broadband providers haven’t always offered low-cost social tariffs. Unlike the water industry where customers are locked in and social tariffs are offered, broadband customers have always been able to switch providers if they can find a cheaper deal and they aren’t locked into an expensive contract.

“Secondly, financially vulnerable people aren’t always forthcoming in asking for help, so providers need to proactively identify them, which poses a serious data challenge. Companies often don’t have the expertise to compile and analyse the data they need, and they don’t always have access to external data that can highlight if someone is financially vulnerable, such as benefits, pensions and affordability information.

“Ultimately, though, identifying financially vulnerable customers and putting them onto an affordable tariff is possible, as long as providers get their data in order and seek outside help where needed. It is vital that they do, especially now that people rely on broadband to work and educate their children. Broadband is no longer a ‘nice to have’; it’s an essential.”


What exactly are UK operators doing to support their customers during the pandemic? Check out our list of Covid-specific measures here

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