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14 Jun 2022

Millions could be missing a £250 per year saving on broadband as many providers fail to promote social tariffs

Which? research shows how providers must do more to publicise cheaper broadband deals to eligible customers

Millions of the most financially vulnerable could be missing out on hundreds of pounds a year because some broadband providers are not regularly advertising cheaper social tariffs on their social media or when customers sign up for services. 

Which? research found that those customers who are eligible for a social tariff could save an average of £250 per year by switching from their current broadband deal to the cheapest social tariff, and eligible customers of some providers could make even bigger savings. 

But we also found that broadband providers could be doing a lot more to make sure those eligible for social tariffs are aware of them and take them up.

Read 10 ways to save money on broadband and TV bills for more advice on reducing the cost of your service, and check our latest cost of living news to help ease the squeeze.

What are social tariffs and who's eligible?

Social tariffs are special discounted deals available for certain low-income customers. You're likely to be eligible if you receive a means-tested benefit, such as Universal Credit, Pension Credit or legacy equivalents. Broadband social tariffs start at just £15 per month, and they are currently offered by eight providers in the UK. Social tariffs aren't usually subject to price rises or exit fees.

However, many broadband customers are unaware they could be eligible for a social tariff. In February 2022, the telecoms regulator, Ofcom, warned that only 55,000 out of an estimated 4.2 million eligible households were signed up to one. 

Ofcom also called on providers to do a better job of promoting social tariffs, making information about them clear and the sign up process as easy as possible for eligible customers. It has urged providers that do not currently offer a social tariff, such as TalkTalk and Vodafone, to do so.

Increasing awareness of social tariffs

We conducted snapshot research to explore what providers are doing to publicise their social tariffs and found that there's more work they could do.

We checked all of the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram posts made by the seven providers that offered social tariffs at the time:  BT, G.Network, Hyperoptic, KCOM, NOW Broadband, Sky and Virgin Media. We checked to see if they were advertising the availability of social tariffs on their social media accounts during the month of May and found that only one provider had posted about them - KCOM posted two tweets plus one Facebook update which mentioned social tariffs. 

Providers could proactively reach out to new customers who are eligible for a social tariff. But when we checked whether the same seven providers asked if people received benefits such as Universal Credit when they sign up for a new broadband deal that is not a social tariff, we found that none did so during the sign up process.

When we asked providers what they were doing to increase awareness of their social tariffs they told us that they were working with local authorities and housing associations, ensuring the tariffs were clearly advertised on their websites, ensuring the tariffs would show up in a Google search, training their staff about social tariffs and exploring ways to directly target eligible customers.

Social tariffs - how much you could save

The purpose of social tariffs is to ensure that the lowest income households have access to broadband services. We found the average customer could save £250 a year by switching to a social tariff if they're eligible.

The potential saving is even larger for customers with certain providers. We found the average Hyperoptic customer could save £344 annually by switching to the firm’s Fair Fibre 50 deal, while the average Virgin Media customer could save £321 if they were eligible for its Essential Broadband service. 

Part of the reason Hyperoptic and Virgin Media customers have such large potential savings is that these providers offer some of the fastest connections on their standard tariffs via their own fibre networks and these tend to cost more. They also offer some of the cheapest social tariffs, though Virgin Media customers that move to its Essential Broadband deal will have to accept a significant reduction in speed.

There are also substantial potential savings with the big providers that use the Openreach network. BT customers could save £284 by switching to its Home Essentials service if eligible. Now Broadband and Sky customers stand to make smaller savings of £128 and £224 respectively by switching to the providers' Broadband Basics packages.

Full list of broadband social tariffs

ProductPrice per monthAverage speedEligibilityAvailability
BT Home Essentials£1536MbpsVarious benefits (in and out of work)Widely available
BT Home Essentials 2£2067MbpsVarious benefits (in and out of work)Widely available
Now Broadband Basics£2036MbpsUniversal Credit or Pension CreditWidely available
Sky Broadband Basics£2036MbpsUniversal Credit or Pension CreditWidely available
Virgin Media Essential Broadband£1515MbpsUniversal CreditWidely available
Hyperoptic Fair Fibre 50£1550MbpsVarious benefits (in and out of work)Selected towns and cities
G.Network Essential Fibre Broadband£1550MbpsVarious benefits (in and out of work)Regional (London)

Broadband providers need to do more

Four months on from Ofcom’s warning, we're calling on broadband providers to up their game and do a better job of promoting social tariffs to their customers, including on their social media accounts and through other channels. Given that telecoms services are essential, providers should ensure they actively support their customers, particularly those who are financially vulnerable, so that they can remain connected and receive any discounts they are eligible for during the cost of living crisis.

We are also calling on the government to reduce the amount of VAT paid on telecoms from 20% down to 5%. A reduction in VAT could save those on a standard broadband tariff up to £57 a year, and those on a social tariff up to £37.50 a year. 

Rocio Concha, Which? Director of Policy and Advocacy, said: 'It is unacceptable that broadband providers aren’t doing more to make customers aware of social tariffs - meaning millions of households who may be struggling to make ends meet could be missing out on hundreds of pounds of savings. 

'During a cost of living crisis, broadband providers must support the most financially vulnerable by clearly promoting discounted deals and making it easy for eligible customers to switch over to social tariffs.'

Our research

The figures around the average amount eligible consumers could save are calculated using data from Which?’s nationally representative survey of 3,755 broadband customers in the UK in December 2021/January 2022. Fieldwork was carried out online by Deltapoll. We compared the average amount survey respondents paid for their broadband (£35.86 per month) with the cheapest widely available social tariff which is BT's Home Essentials (£15 per month). The potential saving is £20.86 per month or £250.32 per year.

Provider-specific figures are taken from a larger sample (3,903 broadband customers) that includes a provider boost. We've only included comparisons for providers that had a sample size of 50 or higher - G.Network and KCOM's sample sizes were below this.

We checked the posts broadband providers had made on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (not including replies) between 1 and 31 May 2022. 

On 5 May 2022, we also checked the information taken by providers up to the point of check out to explore what providers ask new customers signing up for a standard broadband deal and found that none asks customers whether they receive benefits such as Universal Credit.