More than one in six people are struggling to afford their broadband during the third lockdown, Citizens Advice has found.
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.
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.
Towards the end of last year, an estimated 2.3 million people had fallen behind on their broadband bill, according to the charity.
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’
Nelleke van Helfteren, Citizens Advice Ipswich, said:
Broadband allows people to be part of society. So much of the support is now online, as well as job applications, job interviews and benefits claims. 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.
Nicky Willshere, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Ipswich, 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, search for a job or claim Universal Credit.
“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.”