Millions of families under the pressure of the rising cost of living could miss out on a saving of £144 on their broadband bills, Ofcom has warned.
About 1.1 million households are struggling to afford their home broadband service, according to the watchdog, with the figure rising to one in 10 among the lowest income households.
Ofcom predicts affordability issues are likely to worsen in 2022 as the cost of living continues to rise.
Who is entitled to a discount?
Special discounted broadband packages, known as social tariffs, are available to around 4.2 million households who receive Universal Credit.
However, only 5,000 households have taken advantage of the reduced rates so far, which Ofcom says represents 1.2% of those eligible.
This means more than 4.1 million benefit claimants are deprived of an average annual broadband saving of £144 each.
Which companies offer the social tariff?
Six broadband providers currently offer at least one special discounted broadband package. These are BT, Community Fibre, G.Network, Hyperoptic, KCOM and Virgin Media O2.
Plans vary in price, ranging from £1 to £20 per month for broadband speeds of 10Mbps to 67Mbps.
Ofcom is now calling on EE, Plusnet, Shell, Sky, Talk Talk and Vodafone to introduce these social tariffs.
He urged providers who already have social tariffs in place to promote them more widely and encourage other companies to follow suit, with quick and easy sign-up options to allow more people to take advantage of the savings.
Lindsey Fussell, Group Director of Networks and Communications at Ofcom, said: “People rely on their broadband to stay in touch, work and learn from home. But for those who are really struggling with rising bills, every penny counts.
“Special discounts can make all the difference, and too many broadband companies fail to promote or offer their social rate.
“We expect companies to step up their support for low-income people, and we will monitor their response.”
As well as urging others to introduce their own social tariff, Ofcom also pointed out that discounted offers are properly promoted and easy to sign up for, saying customers shouldn’t be put off as it seems difficult to prove that they are eligible.
Matthew Upton, director of policy at Citizens’ Advice, said: “We know that one in 10 people are not confident that they will be able to pay their broadband bill in the next three months.
“This comes as the majority of us face huge increases in our broadband bills, adding further pressure amid a cost of living crisis.
“It’s been over six months since Ofcom and the government started pushing social tariffs as an answer, but the shameful 1% turnout says it all. It is the people with the lowest incomes who are excluded.
“If companies are unable to show serious increases in the number of people they help switch to these rates over the next six months, the government and Ofcom must take action.”