Citizens Advice: "more than one in six struggling to afford broadband" Image by-phonlamaiphoto AdobeStock_248319517

It is estimated that 2.3 million people fell behind on their broadband bill

Citizens Advice research has found that more than one in six people are struggling to afford their broadband during the third lockdown*.

This comes at a time when people are more reliant on broadband to work, teach their children and order essentials.

The charity 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****. Alistair Cromwell, acting chief executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“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.”

Ofcom urged providers to offer cheaper tariffs

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.

‘I can’t afford broadband, so when my mobile data runs out I can’t see my grandkids. Do you know how heartbreaking that is?’

Maxine, who lives alone, had to claim Universal Credit in March when her work in the hospitality industry stopped. She said:

“Throughout the lockdown the only way I’ve been able to see my elderly parents, and most of my grandkids is on video calls. I don’t have broadband as I can’t afford it, so when my data has gone I can’t see them anymore. I’ve missed family games nights on Zoom.

“Do you know how heartbreaking it is to not be able to see them? It’s really isolating just being alone. There were times where if I ran out of data it would be weeks until I saw another person.”

She isn’t eligible for any free data boosts, such as those offered as part of the government’s ‘Get Help With Technology’ scheme to help those with children who can’t afford to get online.

Previously she would go to a friend’s house to use the internet. She added:

“I’m literally being penalised for not having access to the internet. Most things nowadays are online: food shopping when I was isolating, applications, checking my Universal Credit account, getting the best deal for gas and so forth.

“And so when you don’t have access to the internet you lose out as they put all the best deals and information online.”

‘Without access to the internet people are effectively locked out of key services’

Ned Dukes, community advice worker at Citizens Advice Haringey, said:

“Broadband allows people to be part of society. So much of the support is now online, as well as job applications and job interviews. Without access to the internet, people are effectively locked out of key services and everything they need to live a full and proper life.

“But for people on welfare benefits, every single decision about how they spend £1 can make a difference. Broadband can be incredibly expensive.”

Citizens Advice’s services are free, independent, confidential and impartial. Visit citizensadvice.org.uk to get advice online or to find your local Citizens Advice office.

For consumer advice, call the Citizens Advice consumer service on 0808 223 1133.

Notes

*Opinium surveyed 2,008 adults online, between 15-19 January 2021. This question was shown to 82% of respondents (1,646) with broadband. Data was weighted to be nationally representative of the UK adult population.

**Opinium surveyed 3,454adults online, between 14-27 August 2020. Questions on affordability and usage were shown to 92% of respondents (3,190) with the internet at home. Data was weighted to be nationally representative of the UK adult population.

***In the Opinium August survey, 28% of those on means-tested benefits said they struggled to afford their broadband bill generally, compared to 16% of the adult population.

****ICM Unlimited surveyed a representative sample of 6,004 adults living in the UK. The sample was weighted to be nationally representative of the UK. Fieldwork took place between 12 and 25 November. 264 out of 6,004 respondents (4.4%) said they were behind on their broadband bill. Using The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimate (Mid 2019: April 2020 LA Boundaries) of 52,673,433 adults (18+) in the UK, Citizens Advice estimates that this has affected 2.3 million people.