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UK government asks telecoms firms to ‘raise awareness’ of cheaper tariffs

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UK Digital Secretary Nadine Dorries has written to BT, Virgin Media O2, KCom and others to ask them to ‘outline plans for promoting low-cost social tariffs’ for people on benefits.

The secretary of state also asked telcos to provide their estimates of take-up over the coming twelve months of social tariffs. Ofcom described social tariffs are deals which are only available to those on certain government benefits.

The thrust of the argument seems to be that while lower cost deals for broadband and mobile contracts are available to customers low-income households, they might not know about them. An announcement which came out alongside the letter states that social tariffs are available to 99% of the country (presumably they are referring to geography), but says Ofcom data shows that less than 2% cent of eligible people are taking them up.

The letter reads:

The government is determined to work with businesses to keep everyday costs down for families across the country. Broadband has transformed people’s lives as we become a more digital society and I believe it’s vital we raise awareness of discount broadband offers for low-income households.

Support is available for 99 per cent of the country, yet Ofcom’s recent analysis shows that only 1 to 2 per cent of households on Universal Credit eligible for social tariff products have taken them up.

This means that of the almost 5,000,000 households who could be benefiting from cheaper broadband, only around 55,000 currently are. Less than a quarter of those eligible families were aware the deals were available.

It is more important than ever that we support families and ease pressures on household finances while also closing the digital divide. I am grateful for the work you have done on this so far and look forward to your response on how we go further.

The government is clearly keen on ensuring it gets credit for its involvement with any such initiatives already set up designed to help lower income households with affordable connectivity, with the announcement also stating: “The government has played a crucial role in pushing the market to offer social tariffs for telecoms services which could provide a lifeline to low-income households struggling with the global rise in the cost of living. Landline and broadband social tariffs have been offered by BT and KCom for several years, but since 2021 there has been a threefold rise in companies voluntarily offering their own social tariffs after the government stepped in to negotiate the low-cost deals.”

The letter is not an admonishment of firms to introduce any additional schemes per say, but asks them to raise awareness of exiting lower cost options for low-income housholds. This would presumably involve some sort of marketing campaign targeted specially at those on benefits funded by the telcos.

If the 2% eligible uptake figure is correct it could well point to a lack of awareness, but it could also be argued that once the deals have been set up by the providers, it would be more appropriate for government or Ofcom to make sure people are aware of income-based subsidies of this nature itself rather than seek to guide the marketing spend of private companies – especially as it is keen to position itself at the centre of the issue.

 

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