Social tariff improvements welcome but more work to do
The report published by Ofcom confirmed Virgin Media has changed the availability of their Essential Broadband package to all households within their network area rather than only existing customers. With the Virgin network reaching over 15.5 million households, this provides an affordable tariff to a significant number of people on Universal Credit who may be struggling with their broadband bills.
Similarly, following the publication of the report, BT announced they will allow sign-ups to their Home Essentials tariff in their high street EE and BT shops, with more proactive marketing of their affordable deals.
It is positive that major providers are working to make social tariffs more accessible to customers. However, it remains concerning that Ofcom does not yet believe they should mandate more providers to introduce social tariffs even as they acknowledge that affordability pressures are likely to worsen during 2022.
By Ofcom’s own admission, only 1.2% of customers eligible for a social broadband have signed up to such a tariff with 4.2 million recipients of Universal Credit able to cut their bills. Given this dire take-up, the regulator is urging providers to adopt social tariffs and promote them more effectively.
“The vast majority of customers eligible for social broadband tariffs either do not know they exist or believe the tariffs are not for them. More effective promotion will help with the first point, but a shift in culture may be required to combat the second issue.
“Ofcom concede that the application process can be confusing and have urged providers to make it easier for customers to prove their eligibility. However, requiring customers to actively seek out affordable tariffs and admit they need more assistance with their finances is often more difficult than providers realise.
“The partnership between TalkTalk and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that provides jobseekers with broadband vouchers has shown that support can be put in place at the benefit level to reach those who are eligible. Rather than forcing customers to retrospectively seek out assistance when they are struggling, help could and should be signposted at an earlier stage.”