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Broadband: people avoiding social tariffs because of slow speed fears

A general view of broadband router.
Around 4 in 10 households eligible for social tariff do not intend to sign up for it, according to survey by consumer body Which?

UK households are saying no to a discount on their broadband package as many fear that the social tariff will come with a slower connection speed.

Around 4 in 10 households eligible for social tariff do not intend to sign up for it, according to survey by consumer body Which?.

The main reasons cited for not switching among those aware of social tariffs were fears that the social tariff speed offered was too slow (44%), not being able to leave a current contract (32%), the deal not being good enough (24%) and lacking information (24%).

Six in 10 (63%) eligible households surveyed said they were completely unaware social tariffs exist – with half (51%) of this group saying they were likely to switch after hearing about social tariffs.

Read more: Cost of living crisis: Top tips to cut broadband and mobile bills

The watchdog’s research found that Sky, Now and Vodafone only offered social tariffs for fixed broadband with average speeds of 38 megabits per second (mbps) or less – significantly lower than the median UK download speed of 59mbps.

While these connection speeds would work sufficiently for some households, they might not be enough for those with more demands on their broadband, including families with a number of people using the internet.

Which? said other providers such as EE, Plusnet, Shell and TalkTalk still did not offer their own social tariffs.

Three providers – Virgin Media, BT and Hyperoptic – all offer several social tariff offerings at different speeds at various price points.

Social tariffs are special discounted deals available for certain low-income customers – typically those in receipt of benefits, such as Universal Credit.

However, just 3.2% or 136,000 of the 4.2 million households on Universal Credit who are entitled to the discounted deals have taken them up, Ofcom figures show.

Which? is calling on telecoms providers to improve their social tariff offerings and allow eligible customers to switch without fees.

Read more: Universal credit: 4.2 million households missing out on £144 broadband savings

Roberta, a 57-year-old London resident, who was looking for a cheaper broadband plan as she has disability and is on benefits, told Which? that she spoke to several telecoms providers who did not inform her about social tariffs or any deals available for vulnerable customers.

She has now found a suitable offer with BT but said that their social tariff offering was not clear when she first looked at their website.

She said: "Ofcom should make compulsory for each provider to have the vulnerable policy and apply it effectively."

This table focuses on large social tariff providers - which cover over 95 per cent of the market. Table: Which?
This table focuses on large social tariff providers – which cover over 95% of the market. Table: Which?

Rocio Concha, Which? director of policy and advocacy, said: “People who are struggling financially and trying to make savings during the cost-of-living crisis should not be made second-class citizens when it comes to broadband – which is vital for work, education and family life.

“Our research shows that lack of awareness and concerns about slow connections are major factors hampering take-up of social tariffs – so broadband providers need to do more to promote their social tariffs to low-income customers and improve their range of options to ensure that these deals fit customers’ needs.”

Watch: How to save money on a low income