UK broadband and mobile firms accused of burying cheaper deals


Some of the UK’s largest mobile phone and broadband providers have been accused of burying cheaper deals for vulnerable customers on their websites, despite pressure from the government to promote them amid the cost of living crisis.

Charities and consumer groups said millions of low-income households across Britain were missing out on hundreds of pounds of savings, with many left to deal with inflation-busting bill increases of up to 17% this spring.

The chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, last week announced measures to get Ofcom, the telecoms regulator, to push telecoms suppliers to raise awareness of “social tariffs” and to drive consumer take-up. The tariffs are cheaper broadband and mobile phone packages for people claiming universal credit, pension credit and some other benefits.

Analysis of mobile and broadband providers websites by Broadband Genie, a comparison website, shows that several major firms do not promote them on their homepages, or the landing page for their main deals.

Social tariffs are invisible on the homepages of BT and its EE mobile brand, and missing from the main pages of Sky’s website. TalkTalk does not offer a social tariff, although it does provide vouchers for six months of free broadband for jobseekers on universal credit who don’t have an internet connection.

“There’s no excuse at all for our current situation where some of the biggest companies keep them squirrelled far away from their homepage,” said Alex Tofts, broadband expert at Broadband Genie.

“It means that even if customers know a tariff exists, they often have to trawl through websites, past more expensive and far better-promoted deals, to reach the information they need.”

BT has a dedicated webpage for its Home Essentials broadband social tariff. However, it cannot be accessed from the catalogue of pricier deals users are directed to from its homepage, which start at £26.99 a month. Unlike other deals, which can be bought online, prospective Home Essentials customers must call BT. It does not advertise the price. Ofcom’s website lists it at £15 a month.

Other providers advertise their social tariffs more prominently. Voxi, the low-cost mobile network owned by Vodafone, promotes its For Now package for financially vulnerable customers on its homepage. Virgin Media does not promote its Essential Broadband package among the main deals on its website, but does highlight the plans available for low-income families elsewhere on its homepage.

A spokesperson for Virgin Media O2 said customers could apply “in just two clicks – a matter of seconds – on our website”.

Sky declined to comment. TalkTalk did not respond to a request for comment. A BT spokesperson said it had “proudly led the way with social tariffs since 2008”, with about 80% of the total market being supported on its network.

“Our customer take-up of social tariffs is almost triple that of the industry average and Ofcom found more awareness of social tariffs among BT’s customers than any others,” they added.

The findings come after the Guardian revealed six telecoms companies controlling most of the market pushed through the biggest round of mid-contract price hikes for more than 30 years this spring. Social tariffs were exempted from the increases. Ofcom has said it is reviewing the practice.