BT, the UK's biggest broadband provider, has announced it will offer new social tariffs for its fibre broadband. BT's Home Essentials packages will be available to people on Universal Credit and certain other means-tested benefits.
Home Essentials will include both fibre broadband and calls for as little as £15 a month - around half the price of BT's standard fibre package. BT estimates that as many as 4.6 million households could benefit from the deal.
The announcement follows research from Ofcom, the telecoms regulator, which found that 19% of UK households struggle to afford at least one of their telecoms services.
Rocio Concha, Which? Director of Policy and Advocacy said:
'Access to a good broadband connection is vital for everyday life, however affordability can be an issue for some consumers, so it is good BT that has introduced this new tariff offering decent connection speeds at lower prices to help get more people online.
'BT must now ensure that it proactively engages with those who are eligible so they are aware and can take advantage of these new tariffs.'
Home Essentials is a low cost fibre broadband deal that is available to customers receiving government support, including Universal Credit and legacy benefits such as the Guarantee Credit element of Pension Credit, Jobseeker's Allowance, Income Support or Employment and Support Allowance.
Eligible customers can choose between:
The lowest priced equivalent standard BT broadband package costs £32.99 a month with an additional £15 for unlimited calls.
BT has offered another social tariff, called BT Basic, since 2008. This costs £10.07 a month (with a cap of £20.07 for those who make phone calls costing over £1.50 a month) and includes broadband with an average speed of 10Mbps. However, it is only available to those on Universal Credit who do not make any earnings from employment.
Virgin Media also offers a deal called Essential Broadband, which was launched late last year. It only includes broadband and costs £15 a month for an average speed of 15Mbps.
Hyperoptic offers its Fair Fibre plans to eligible customers who can access its full fibre network. These are discounted plans ranging from £15 a month for an average speed of 50Mbps up to £28 a month for 150Mbps.
KCOM and Voxi also offer social tariffs to customers based on eligibility criteria.
However, Ofcom research has shown that overall take up of social tariffs is low - it has encouraged more providers to offer them and to promote them to eligible customers. It is continuing to explore the affordability of telecoms service and whether further action is needed.
If you're experiencing difficult circumstances that could affect your ability to pay for your broadband or phone services, it's worth letting your provider know - last year, Ofcom introduced best practice guidance for telecoms providers, calling on them to and sympathetically.
Whether you're receiving a benefit or not, it's worth regularly taking stock to check you're not paying over the odds for your broadband deal, particularly if you're no longer on a fixed term contract. Our analysis of broadband deals available in April has shown that broadband customers who are out of contract can face a price hike of as much as 70% when contracts end.
If you're dissatisfied with your provider because of an unreliable connection or poor customer service, it's worth considering a switch. Which? Switch Broadband can help you to compare the best broadband deals that are available where you live. Fibre deals costing £20-25 a month are widely available, though these don't usually include phone calls.