One million lose broadband access as cost-of-living crisis bites

  • A million people disconnected their broadband in the last year because they couldn’t afford it.

  • People on Universal Credit were more than six times as likely to have disconnected compared to people not claiming Universal Credit.

  • People on Universal Credit would have been eligible for discounted broadband social tariffs, however there are still big gaps around awareness and access.

  • Charity warns increasingly essential service is becoming out of reach for many.

As many as one million people cut off their broadband in the last year as the cost-of-living crisis left them unable to afford internet access, according to new research from Citizens Advice.

People receiving Universal Credit were badly affected. The research found them to be six times more likely to have stopped spending on broadband in the last 12 months amidst rising bills, compared to non-claimants. 

The charity fears this problem could get worse. Where people claiming Universal Credit are still paying for broadband, they are more than four times more likely to be behind on broadband bills than those who aren’t. 

Citizens Advice says these are worrying signs that a service that is increasingly essential for day-to-day life is becoming out of reach for people.

People on Universal Credit are among customers who should be eligible for discounted social tariffs to help them stay connected. However, as uptake of these tariffs is currently just 5%, the charity claims these important discounts aren’t reaching those who need it.

The latest figures from Ofcom show 95% of the 4.3 million eligible households are missing out on saving £200 on broadband costs each year. That is £824 million of support going unclaimed. 

Rob’s Story - ‘Not having the internet affects me enormously; from not being able to apply for jobs,to my social life and my mental health, because I feel very isolated.’

Rob, is 63 years old and lives in shared accommodation. Over the past 13 years, he’s only had internet access for the last 10 months, after he received a prepaid service from his local council.  This is due to run out in July and will not be extended.

“I haven’t had access to the internet in the past mainly because I am unable to afford the cost of broadband,” Rob said.

“It’s more difficult to enjoy any aspect of life since the cost-of-living crisis and certainly the internet is something that’s out of my reach.” 

Rob said he hadn’t heard of social tariffs: “I didn’t even know it was a thing, but I’ll look into it. I might just be able to afford it if it’s discounted enough.”

Dame Clare Moriarty, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“People are being priced out of internet access at a worrying rate. Social tariffs should be the industry’s safety net, but firms’ current approach to providing and promoting them clearly isn’t working. The people losing out as a result are the most likely to disconnect.

“The internet is now an essential part of our lives - vital to managing bills, accessing benefits and staying in touch with loved ones.

“As providers continue to drag their feet in making social tariffs a success, it’s clear that Ofcom needs to hold firms’ feet to the fire.”

Please visit the Citizens Advice website for information on how to check if you’re eligible for broadband social tariffs.

Notes to editors

Citizens Advice data from an online survey of 6,000 UK adults plus a boost of 243 respondents in receipt of Universal Credit to make a total of 1,215 respondents in receipt of Universal Credit. Fieldwork was conducted by Walnut Unlimited on behalf of Citizens Advice. Fieldwork was undertaken between 9 January - 8 February 2023. The figures have been weighted and are nationally representative. The figures for the Universal Credit boost are weighted to be representative of the demographics of those receiving Universal Credit. 

Questions that were asked included:

Thinking about the last 12 months, have you cut back or stopped spending on any of the following products or services as a result of rising costs? - Broadband. (Cutting back could include switching to a cheaper deal or taking actions to reduce your spending. Stopping spending could include cancelling a subscription, disconnecting yourself, cancelling a direct debit or stopping using a service).

Some groups were more likely than others to have stopped spending. 6% of people claiming Universal Credit said they had stopped spending on broadband altogether, compared to 1% of respondents not on Universal Credit.

You said you cut back or stopped spending on broadband. Which, if any, of the following have you experienced as a result?

1 in 8 (12%) respondents said they cut back or stopped spending on broadband in the last 12 months and experienced at least one negative consequence as a result. Among those who’d cut back or stopped spending and experienced harm: 42% found it difficult to manage their other bills, 27% found it difficult to keep in touch with friends and family, 26% found it difficult to look for work, 23% found it difficult to work from home, 14% found it difficult to manage my Universal Credit account.

Are you currently behind on any of the following household bills or payments? - Broadband bill.

7% of respondents said they were behind on their broadband bill. Some groups were more likely than others to be behind. 16% of respondents claiming Universal Credit said they were behind on their broadband bill, compared to 4% of respondents not on Universal Credit. 

  1. The latest figures from Ofcom indicate a shocking 95% of eligible households are missing out on a £200 saving each year.

  2. 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.

  3. Our network of charities offers impartial advice online, over the phone, and in person, for free. 

  4. Citizens Advice helped 2.55 million people face to face, over the phone, by email and webchat in 2021-22. And we had 40.6 million visits to our website. For full service statistics see our monthly publication Advice trends.

  5. Citizens Advice service staff are supported by more than 18,500 trained volunteers, working at over 2,500 service outlets across England and Wales.

  6. You can get consumer advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 0808 223 1133 or 0808 223 1144 for Welsh language speakers.