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Social tariffs can cut your internet costs - but only if you know about them

by Kyle Scott, policy officer (Strong Communities team).

This article was first published in the Herald on 10 October 2022.


Over recent weeks and months, my colleagues and I have written countless articles here shining a light on how the cost of living crisis is impacting consumers and clients of the Scottish Citizens Advice network. We’ve covered how people throughout Scotland are running out of money before payday and how Citizens Advice Bureaux have generated £132 million for our clients in the last year.

We’ve also discussed measures brought in to alleviate the crisis for people, and unfortunately often how such measures are not going far enough. We’ve spoken about the affordability of essential services and how consumers are struggling to maintain these costs. And a month ago, we shone a light on a hidden aspect of the cost of living crisis: how the cost of maintaining access to the internet is becoming unaffordable for many people.

Given the essential need for an internet connection, you would think a lot would be done to ensure that consumers can maintain their access affordably. Ofcom as the regulator has done some significant work by ensuring affordable fixed broadband is a priority, and urging broadband providers to make sure vulnerable customers are treated fairly. We have seen some proactive measures come from the regulator throughout the past year, with Ofcom acting to ensure that consumers can access information relating to the best possible deals being a key example.

Ofcom have also been pushing hard for providers to do more to support customers as household bills have soared, particularly since Ofcom’s latest research showing that 8 million households are having problems affording communication services. In a rather unprecedented move, the regulator publicly called out broadband providers for not offering Social Tariffs, and the market as whole for not adequately marketing such tariffs (Social Tariffs are packages designed for eligible welfare recipients to access the internet at cheaper rates).

Social Tariffs are one measure that could go a long way to ensuring that consumers’ household bills remain affordable. But unfortunately a staggering 97% of eligible households have not yet taken advantage of them. A lot of this is to do with a lack of awareness, with almost 7 out of 10 eligible customers not being aware of the existence of Social Tariffs. Ofcom feel, and we certainly agree, that providers should be doing much more to promote these tariffs to eligible customers..

I suppose it is quite reassuring to see a regulator working with consumer’s interests at its core and I am confident that their work will reduce consumer detriment. However, can the same be said of telecoms providers? I struggle to see the merit of providers developing measures to help consumers throughout the cost of living crisis if they aren’t proactively making consumers who could benefit aware of them.

So, if you are claiming welfare benefits, check with your broadband supplier what Social Tariffs they offer and see if you are eligible. And if you know anyone else who is in that position, tell them to do the same.

And remember, the Citizens Advice network is always on hand to provide the support and advice you need to navigate issues you may be facing in the current cost of living crisis and more generally. We don’t judge, we just help.