Social tariffs for broadband

Broadband social tariffs help people on low incomes stay connected by offering cheaper internet. Here’s everything you need to know about social tariffs, including which broadband providers offer them and who can get these discounted deals.

Broadband social tariffs help people on low incomes stay connected by offering cheaper internet. Here’s everything you need to know about social tariffs, including which broadband providers offer them and who can get these discounted deals.

Holly Cox
Digital expert
5
minute read
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Posted 4 JANUARY 2023

What is a broadband social tariff?

Social tariffs are discounted broadband deals for low-income households on Universal Credit or other state benefits.

Broadband is considered an essential service but, as the cost of living crisis continues to bite, many families are facing digital exclusion. Social tariffs are designed to make getting online more affordable for those struggling to pay their bills.

Research by telecoms regulator Ofcom shows that an estimated 4.2 million households in the UK could save around £144 a year by moving to a social tariff. But most are still missing out because they’re not always aware that low-income broadband is available.

Am I eligible for social tariff broadband?

If you receive a means-tested state benefit like Universal Credit or Pension Credit, you’re likely to qualify for a social tariff broadband deal.

Each broadband provider has slightly different criteria for social tariffs, so it’s worth checking to see which ones you’re eligible for. Some only offer Universal Credit broadband discounts, while others include customers on Income Support, Jobseeker’s Allowance and other benefits.

Some providers also extend eligibility to people who receive non-means-tested benefits, such as Disability Living Allowance and Personal Independence Payment. 

How could a broadband social tariff help me?

Switching to a social broadband tariff can have several advantages for low-income families:

  • It’s cheaper than standard broadband, with prices starting from around £12 a month.
  • Some plans cover a range of government benefits, not just Universal Credit.
  • Most social tariffs offer superfast broadband speeds of over 30Mbps – fast enough to browse online and stream TV.
  • You can usually switch to a social tariff free of charge and, in most cases, won’t pay set-up fees.
  • There’s no price rises mid-contract, so you won’t pay more than you agreed at the start of the plan.
  • You won’t be hit with fees if you want to leave the tariff before the end of your contract.

Which providers offer broadband social tariffs?

According to Ofcom, 8 million households are having problems paying for their phone, broadband and streaming bills. That figure has doubled since 2021.

To tackle the digital divide, a growing number of providers now offer substantially cheaper broadband to people on a low income so they can access a fast, reliable internet connection. Read on for more details about the discounted broadband deals available:

BT social tariff

BT Home Essentials offers unlimited broadband with average speeds of up to 67Mbps from £15 a month[1]. With a BT package, you’ll also need to pay a one-off postage and package fee of £9.99 for delivery of your router though.

Who can get it?

You can qualify for a BT low-income broadband and phone package if you’re on any of these benefits:

  • Universal Credit
  • Income Support
  • Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Employment and Support Allowance
  • Pension Credit. 

Sky social tariff

Sky Broadband Basics costs £20 a month[1] for an average speed of 36Mbps. The plan also includes pay-as-you-go landline calls.

Sky’s streaming service NOW offers a similar deal with its NOW Broadband Basics package.

Who can get it?

These social tariffs are only available to existing Sky and NOW customers. You’ll also need to be claiming either Universal Credit or Pension Credit to qualify for the discount.

Virgin Media social tariff

Virgin Media offers three Essential broadband packages for low-income households to stay connected. They all come with a rolling 30-day contract and no changes to the monthly price. The most basic deal costs £12.50 a month[1], with average speeds of 15Mbps. If you’re looking for a faster speed, Virgin also offers its Essential Plus package for £20 per month[1], promising an average download speed of 54Mbps. And, for an extra one-off fee of £20, you can add Virgin’s streaming service to your package.

None of these tariffs comes with a phone line, so Virgin Media may not be the best provider for you if you want a landline to call family and friends. 

Who can get it?

Anyone on Universal Credit can get Virgin’s Essential broadband packages, whether you’re a new or existing customer.

Vodafone social tariff

Vodafone Essentials Broadband is one of the cheapest broadband social tariffs around. For £12 a month[1], you can get internet speeds of up to 38Mbps. There’s no set-up fee and no mid-contract price changes.

Who can get it?

Vodafone Essentials is available to all existing and new customers who receive any of the following government benefits:

  • Universal Credit​
  • Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Income Support
  • Disability Living Allowance​
  • Personal Independence Payment
  • Reduced Earnings Allowance
  • Employment and Support Allowance.​ 

Existing Vodafone customers who have been identified as ‘financially vulnerable’ can also get this tariff.

TalkTalk social tariff

While not technically a social tariff, TalkTalk’s voucher scheme offers free broadband to jobseekers on Universal Credit who don’t have an internet connection. The programme, in partnership with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), offers eligible customers six months of TalkTalk’s Fibre35 broadband without charge.

Once the six months is up, you can either roll onto a TalkTalk contract or cancel the service without being charged a fee.

Who can get it?

To qualify, you’ll need to be referred by Jobcentre staff, based on whether you need the internet to search for jobs.

Other providers that offer social tariffs include Community Fibre, Hyperoptic, KCOM and Air Broadband, although these are only available in certain parts of the country.

The full list of broadband social tariffs can be found on Ofcom’s website.

[1] Prices correct as of December 2022.

Is a social tariff as good as a regular broadband deal?

Switching to a social tariff doesn’t mean switching to a sub-standard service. It’s delivered in exactly the same way as regular broadband, just at a lower price.

Most of the discounted packages currently available offer broadband speeds of over 30Mbps – fast enough to handle a typical household’s internet demands, from shopping online and streaming HD films to applying for jobs and keeping in touch with family and friends.

Larger families who may be working, streaming and gaming all at the same time might be better off with speeds of over 50Mbps, although this is likely to cost you more.

How do I apply for a broadband social tariff?

Firstly, if you already have a broadband provider, check whether they offer a social tariff. You can apply for most tariffs online, or you can phone your provider to ask to switch.

If your provider doesn’t offer a social tariff, you can switch to one that does if you meet the eligibility criteria. Your provider might let you leave your current contract without paying a penalty fee, but this isn’t a given.

It’s worth noting that social tariffs won’t show up on comparison sites. You can find out more by going to the provider’s dedicated social tariffs webpage.

Most broadband providers will now do an instant eligibility check when you apply, which means you no longer have to provide evidence of your benefits statement. You will, though, need to supply your National Insurance number, and the provider may carry out a credit check.  

How do I get cheaper broadband if I’m not eligible for a social tariff?

If you’re worried about the amount your broadband is costing you, speak to your provider to see if there’s anything they can do to make your bill more manageable.

It’s also worth comparing broadband to see if you can find a better deal elsewhere. There are plenty of low-cost broadband deals out there as the market is very competitive when trying to attract new customers.

If you’re tied into a fixed-term contract, get in touch with your provider to see if they’ll let you leave without paying an early exit fee.

See more tips on how to choose the right broadband package.  

Frequently asked questions

Can I get free broadband?

Free broadband isn’t generally available in the UK. But jobseekers on Universal Credit who don’t already have a broadband connection may be able to get six months’ worth of free fibre broadband from TalkTalk, under a partnership with Jobcentre Plus. Speak to your work coach if you think you might be eligible for this scheme.

Can I get free broadband installation?

UK broadband network Openreach will install broadband for free to UK households on Universal Credit who don’t have any other income. Many major broadband providers run on Openreach, including BT, Sky and TalkTalk, so by waiving connection fees it’s hoped that thousands more people can get online. 

Can pensioners get cheaper broadband?

While there are currently no deals for older people specifically, you might be able to qualify for a social tariff if you receive certain benefits, including Pension Credit. Otherwise, you can shop around for a standard broadband package that best fits your needs.

How long do broadband social tariffs last?

It varies among providers. Some offer a rolling 30-day contract, while others sign you up for a year or more at a fixed price. Don’t worry too much about being locked into a deal because most providers will let you leave early without having to pay a penalty. Just make sure you’re clear on what your options are once the contract ends, as you might be automatically rolled onto a much more expensive plan unless you take action.

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