Citizens Advice has revealed that one in six UK residents are struggling to afford broadband during the third lockdown of the pandemic. The groups struggling the most with broadband bills have been children, disabled people, those from Black, Asian or ethnic minority backgrounds, people who have been asked to shield and young people. Citizens Advice went on to add that people claiming low-income benefits, such as Universal Credit, were almost twice as likely to struggle to pay their bill as other customers.
The news raises concerns at a time when people require reliable access to a quality connection for work and education purposes. Citizens Advice indicated that broadband providers should be doing more, as despite a massive 2.3 million people currently struggling with broadband bills, only three of the largest providers in the industry currently offers cheaper tariffs to low-income households.
“The fact that one in six households are struggling to afford broadband is shocking and a very worrying sign of the times,” commented Anita Dougall, CEO and Founding Partner at data consultancy Sagacity. “There are a couple of elements at play here though: firstly, broadband providers haven’t always offered low-cost social tariffs. Unlike the water industry where customers are locked in and social tariffs are offered, broadband customers have always been able to switch providers if they can find a cheaper deal and they aren’t locked into an expensive contract.
“Secondly, financially vulnerable people aren’t always forthcoming in asking for help, so providers need to proactively identify them, which poses a serious data challenge. Companies often don’t have the expertise to compile and analyse the data they need, and they don’t always have access to external data that can highlight if someone is financially vulnerable, such as benefits, pensions and affordability information.
“Ultimately, though, identifying financially vulnerable customers and putting them onto an affordable tariff is possible, as long as providers get their data in order and seek outside help where needed. It is vital that they do, especially now that people rely on broadband to work and educate their children. Broadband is no longer a ‘nice to have’; it’s an essential.”