More than one in six people are struggling to afford their broadband during the third lockdown, Citizens Advice has found. This comes at a time when people are more reliant on broadband to work, teach their children and order essentials.
Citizens Advice found that during the first lockdown, certain groups, including people with children, disabled people, people from Black, Asian or ethnic minority backgrounds, those who were shielding and young people were particularly struggling with their broadband bill.
It also found broadband customers in receipt of low-income benefits such as Universal Credit were almost twice as likely to struggle to pay their bill as other customers. Towards the end of last year, an estimated 2.3 million people had fallen behind on their broadband bill, according to the charity.
In December, regulator Ofcom found that if households were paying the average £37 a month for landline and broadband, this would take around four times the proportion of a low-income household’s budget, compared to an average household.
It “strongly urged” all providers to consider offering cheaper tariffs for those on a low income or who are struggling financially.
Citizens Advice is calling on the government and Ofcom to fast-track these plans by making it compulsory for all providers to offer affordable tariffs to people on low-income benefits. Only three of the largest 13 firms currently offer these tariffs.
Says Alistair Cromwell, Acting Chief Executive of Citizens Advice:
“The pandemic has cemented the fact that broadband is an essential utility. It is not a luxury for those who can afford it. Without broadband, we struggle to teach our children, order food and medicines, work or search for a job.
“While the government has provided free laptops and mobile data to help children study at home, these are ultimately just a sticking plaster. To tackle the digital divide, it must take urgent action to ensure everyone can afford their broadband, no matter which provider they are with.”
Adds Phil Sorksy, SVP, Service Providers for EMEA at CommScope:
“With the lines between “home” and “office” increasingly blurred due to the rise of remote working – especially in the current lockdown – having access to affordable connectivity is crucial so that local economies and communities can truly thrive.
“In many instances enhanced broadband (up to 1 Gbps) can be delivered by either superfast fibre services or via ultra-high speed service over Cable TV Networks (DOCSIS 3.1), and in some instances the next generation of 5G wireless can provide a solution. However, regardless of the delivery mechanism, it is essential that all strata of society can access the most appropriate local service, including those that may need some financial assistance in doing so.”