A recent survey by Citizens Advice has revealed that nearly 1 million people in the UK disconnected their broadband service in the past 12 months due to financial reasons. The study suggests that individuals on low incomes were the most affected, as 6% of those receiving Universal Credit, the UK’s benefit scheme for low and no-income households, stated they had ceased spending on broadband altogether.

Out of the 6,000 UK adults surveyed, around a fifth received Universal Credit. Citizens Advice claims that these figures are nationally representative and highlight the fact that people are being priced out of internet access at an alarming rate. Dame Clare Moriarty, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, stated, “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.”

In response to this issue, UK regulator Ofcom has been urging telecoms companies to offer and publicize social tariffs, or more affordable internet plans, for those on low incomes. However, progress has been slow. Last month, Ofcom data revealed that only 5.1% of the 4.3 million eligible households had signed up for social tariffs, amounting to around 220,000 households. While this is a quadrupling in uptake since the start of the year, it remains a disappointing figure overall.

Moriarty suggests that Ofcom must exert more pressure on telecoms companies to improve the uptake of social tariffs, stating, “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.” However, encouraging operators to do the right thing appears to be Ofcom’s preferred approach, rather than adopting a forceful stance.

One significant obstacle is the lack of awareness regarding social tariffs. Ofcom’s data indicates that over 50% of eligible individuals are unaware of their existence. Citizens Advice shared a case study of a low-income consumer named Rob, who had historically been without internet access due to cost and was previously unaware of social tariffs. Rob’s situation highlights that affordability is a highly relative concept, and as the cost of living crisis deepens, it is crucial for both operators and Ofcom to address this issue and make broadband access accessible and affordable for all.