MILLIONS of Brits are struggling to pay their broadband bills, with families on Universal Credit most likely to fall behind with payments, new research has found.
In total, 2.5million people are behind on their payments and 700,000 of those have been pushed into the red during the coronavirus pandemic.
Households on Universal Credit are nine times as likely to be behind on their payments compared to others not on the benefit, according to the latest research from Citizens Advice.
Families with children and 18 to 34-year-olds are also more vulnerable to struggling to make payments than groups.
Falling behind on bills can lead to broadband being cut off during a time when people are more reliant on home internet connection for work, school and job applications.
Citizens Advice said broadband is an essential utility, and urged the government and internet providers to do more to help those on lower incomes.
Dame Clare Moriarty, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Broadband is not a luxury, it’s an essential, like gas and electricity.
“Lack of broadband creates yet another hurdle in the hunt for jobs, helping children with their schoolwork, and being able to access help, information and fill in forms online. Those with a broadband connection can have a huge head start on those who don’t.
“Ofcom and the government must ensure everyone can afford their broadband, no matter which provider they are with.
“People shouldn’t be penalised simply because their provider isn’t one of the few firms that offers a cheaper tariff.”
Broadband packages for people on benefits
There is help available if you’re struggling to make ends meet.
Several internet companies provide special discounted rates for customers who are on Universal Credit or other benefits.
BT offers a basic phone and broadband package for households that claim certain benefits.
You could be eligible to get the cheaper broadband deal if you get one of the following benefits:
- Income Support
- Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
- Pensions Credit (Guaranteed Credit)
- Employment and Support Allowance (Income related)
- Universal Credit (and are on zero earnings)
The monthly phone line rental costs £5.16, and includes free weekend calls for up to an hour to 0845 and 0870 numbers.
It also comes with a call allowance of £1.50 and a £10 monthly price cap.
You can add broadband to the BT Basic line for £10.07.
The price cap means that no matter how many calls you make, the most you’ll pay each month is £15.16 or £20.07 with broadband, if you keep with the eligible calls included within the price cap.
If you make fewer calls it will be less and you can choose to have either monthly or quarterly bills.
Virgin Media also offers a cheaper deal for people on Universal Credit.
However, the £15 a month Virgin Essentials offer is only available to existing customers – but it could be a good option if you’re already signed up and are looking to reduce your costs.
It is a 30-day rolling contract so you can switch back to your usual service when and if you’re ready to.
The broadband deal doesn’t come with a phone line, and there’s no way of adding one, so this probably isn’t the right deal for you if you need a landline for emergencies.
Other cheaper options include Hyperoptic’s Fair Fibre plan, which offers benefits claimants money off broadband packages, and customers in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire could get a good deal with KCOM.
It’s important to shop around when you’re looking for a new broadband deal as other internet packages could be more suited to your needs.
You should use a price comparison website to find the best fit for your budget.
What happens if you fall behind on payments?
If you fall behind on your broadband bills you should contact your internet provider, as most will try and help you find a solution.
According to Citizens Advice, that could include:
- giving you a payment plan
- reducing your bill
- giving you more time to pay
- increasing your data or download limit
- moving you to a contract that suits your needs better
If you can’t pay your bill because of coronavirus, the government has said you can get extra help if you’re a customer of:
- Virgin Media
Your provider might be able to give you free calls from your landline or mobile to make sure you stay connected.
If you’re a customer of a different provider, you should still ask if they can help. If they refuse, you might be able to switch to a different company.
NHS staff might be able to get extra help, such as more data, calls or texts on your mobile phone and upgrading your broadband if you work from home.
Contact your internet provider to see if they do any deals for NHS workers.
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Changes to Universal Credit rules could see thousands of vulnerable people get more cash to pay their rent.
And MoneySavingExpert’s Martin Lewis has warned that thousands could be missing out on payments due to too much paperwork.
If you’re looking for other ways to save money, check out the 7 schemes you can apply for to get help with childcare costs.