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19 Jan 2021

Free mobile data for schoolchildren: find out what help is available

Find out more about the scheme to allow schoolchildren access to extra mobile data, and other benefits, including free laptops, that may be available
Family sat around a table at home

Disadvantaged schoolchildren can request temporary access to extra mobile data if they don't have fixed broadband at home, can't afford additional data for their devices or are experiencing disruption to face-to-face education.

Following the closure of schools as part of the UK lockdown, the government has announced the measures and currently, seven networks have agreed to join the scheme.

It joins a range of other benefits on offer for those in need - read on to find out more.

We regularly survey customers of the biggest mobile networks to reveal the best and worst UK mobile providers.

Which mobile networks are offering free data?

Currently, seven networks have agreed to join the scheme:

  • Three
  • Smarty
  • Virgin Mobile
  • EE
  • Tesco Mobile
  • Sky Mobile
  • O2

Data from the telecoms regulator, Ofcom, suggests more than 880,000 children live in a home with only a mobile internet connection, and so could benefit from mobile data increases.

Furthermore, for households with disadvantaged children who have many devices needing to connect to the internet, for which mobile data increases are not suitable, 4G wireless routers are also being made available.

How do you access the data?

Parents, carers and pupils need to go through their school or local authority to access these benefits. In order to help the application, you should provide the name of the account holder, the mobile number and the network the mobile phone is linked to. Once a network provider has processed a data increase, they'll send a text message to the account holder to let them know the details.

For the 4G wireless routers, you may need to help your school or local authority with more information. For example, you may be asked to provide evidence of what your current internet connectivity situation is.

More information can be found on the gov.uk website.

What other help is out there?

  • Laptops and tablets: For those disadvantaged households who do not have enough laptops for their children, schools and local authorities can request devices to help with home schooling. The Department for Education (DfE) aims to reach more than one million who qualify for support. Read more about getting laptops and tablets for children on the government website. If you're looking to buy a cheap laptop, read our guide on the best laptops under £200 for children.
  • Free learning: BT is working with the DfE to provide extra data to schoolchildren, and has announced with the BBC that all Schools Bitesize content will not count towards mobile data allowance during lockdown. This means that all EE, BT Mobile and Plusnet Mobile customers can get unlimited access to the educational content without using any of their data.
  • Oak National Academy learning: O2, Three, Vodafone, EE, BT Mobile and Plusnet customers will be able to access content from this online education resource for free, even if they run out of data. The government-funded site was created during the first lockdown as a learning hub for teachers and pupils.
  • 30GB from Vodafone: Back in November, Vodafone announced it is giving free connectivity to 250,000 children across the UK to help them access school work from home with 30GB data Sims. It has since extended this with an additional 100,000.
  • 40GB from O2: O2 is offering 40GB of free data to support families struggling during lockdown, and calling for device donations as part of a Community Calling initiative.

It remains to be seen what further help will be offered but more providers are bringing in additional benefits. Check your provider's website for more information, and the government's Get Help with Technology page has more information and resources on what's available.

Read about more essential tech and websites for learning at home.

How can I save if not eligible for free data increases?

If you are not eligible for this government help, you can still take steps to save money on your telecoms bills.

See if you can switch to a different Sim plan during lockdown

If you're spending more time at home using wi-fi, it's likely that your mobile data use has plummeted, rendering a high data plan not fit for purpose. Check to see if you can switch to a lower data Sim plan temporarily and save yourself some cash. This will be easier if you are on a 30-day Sim plan. You could also consider switching - our guide on how to switch mobile provider has more.

Let your provider know if you are struggling

If you are struggling with your bills, it is worth letting your provider know immediately as there are ways in which they can help you manage costs, whether that be through payment holidays, moving you onto a lower-priced package, or other methods.

Haggle with your provider

Even if you are not particularly struggling, it can still be worth speaking to your provider to negotiate a new deal, particularly if you are out of contract as you can save money without having to leave your provider.

Read our guides on how to haggle with your mobile provider or how to haggle with your broadband provider for some help.