More than one in six struggling to afford broadband
More than one in six people are struggling to afford their broadband during the third lockdown, Citizens Advice has found.(1)
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.(2)
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. (3)
Towards the end of last year, an estimated 2.3 million people had fallen behind on their broadband bill, according to the charity.(4)
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."
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.”
Notes to editors
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, we estimate that this has affected 2.3 million people.
Ofcom found the average household spend on broadband was £37.25 in 2019. Its December report said "If the lowest income decile households were not taking the cheapest tariffs shown, but instead paid the average amount for fixed voice and data (£37), this would represent around 4% of disposable income. By comparison, average spend on fixed voice and data 79 (£37) would represent around 1% of disposable income for an average household."
In December 2020, the European Electronic Communications Code was put into UK law. This means Ofcom and the government can make it compulsory for providers to introduce affordable broadband tariffs.
Ofcom Technology Tracker 9 January-7 March 2020. 13 providers had at least 1% of respondents select them as their main service provider at home.
The full report is available on request.
Citizens Advice is made up of the national charity Citizens Advice; the network of independent local Citizens Advice charities across England and Wales; the Citizens Advice consumer service; and the Witness Service.
Our network of charities offers impartial advice online and over the phone, for free.
We helped 2.8 million people face to face, over the phone, by email and webchat in 2019-20. And we had 34.5 million visits to our website. For full service statistics see our monthly publication Advice trends.
You can get consumer advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 0808 223 1133 or 0808 223 1144 for Welsh language speakers.