A recent Citizens Advice survey has revealed that 2.5 million people are behind on their broadband bills, with 700,000 of these falling into the red during the Covid pandemic.
Young, With Children Under 18, Or Receiving Universal Credit Most Affected
The survey of 6,001 adults living in the UK revealed that 18 to 34-year-olds and those with children under 18 are three times as likely to be behind on their broadband bills as older groups and households without children. This may be due to people becoming more reliant on broadband to work and help their children with schoolwork during the pandemic, with UK adults spending an average of 22 hours online each week. The survey also found that Households on Universal Credit are nine times as likely to be behind on their broadband bill compared to those not on the benefit.
Another Hurdle In The Hunt For Jobs
Citizens Advice points out that being without broadband in today’s society simply creates yet another hurdle in the hunt for jobs, or in being able to help children with their schoolwork, and in being able to access help, information and completing forms online.
Broadband Is An Essential Utility
Dame Clare Moriarty, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, argues that “Broadband is not a luxury, it’s an essential, like gas and electricity” and has called on Ofcom and the government to ensure that everyone is able to afford their broadband, no matter which provider they are with. The Citizens Advice CE also stressed that “people shouldn’t be penalised simply because their provider isn’t one of the few firms that offers a cheaper tariff.”
Back in February, a similar survey by Citizens Advice also revealed one in six people were struggling to afford their broadband during the third lockdown and that poorer people were being locked out altogether. It was already known from previous surveys that groups struggling most with their broadband bills were people with children, disabled people, people from Black, Asian or ethnic minority backgrounds, those who were shielding, young people, and those in receipt of low-income benefits (e.g. Universal Credit) were found to be almost twice as likely to struggle to pay their bill as other customers.
Only Two Offer Cheaper Tariffs
Ofcom urged all providers back in December 2020 to consider offering cheaper broadband tariffs for those on a low income or who are struggling financially. At the time, 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.
Only two nationwide and two local providers now offer these tariffs to those on Universal Credit.
What Does This Mean For Your Business?
The pandemic lockdowns have highlighted just how essential having a broadband connection has now become in society for everything from working online (remotely), study for young people and children, communication, online shopping, job applications or job interviews and more. In fact, broadband is now essential to allow people to participate fully in society and, as Citizens Advice has pointed out, not having a broadband connection (due to being unable to afford it) can put people and their children at a considerable disadvantage going forward. This also highlights another inequality in society based on income. Although broadband companies are businesses, the service they provide is now essential and has a major influence on society and the life chances and opportunities of UK citizens. Despite being urged by the regulator to offer lower tariffs for low-income groups, the lack of action by broadband companies may now mean that, under the European Electronic Communications Code, which is now part of UK law, broadband providers may be forced into offering affordable tariffs to people on low-income benefits.