Ofcom urges help for struggling customers, but won’t impose tariff

Telecoms regulator Ofcom has released new research showing that, while customers in the UK are generally getting higher quality connectivity for better value than they previously did, many people are still struggling to afford connections.

The new report comes after the regulator announced research in December 2020 which found that 19 per cent of UK households, approximately 4.7 million homes, were struggling to afford mobile internet and fixed broadband connectivity. At the time, Ofcom said it could intervene if companies in the telecoms industry did not do more to support struggling customers, even suggesting that it could impose a regulated social tariff.

Regarding the downward trend in prices the latest report read: “Average ‘new customer’ prices for superfast broadband and landline bundles last year were nearly 20 per cent cheaper in real terms than in 2015, while the average amount of broadband data used by households increased by 342 percent over that time, and average download speeds rose by 178 per cent.”

“Similarly, the average cost of mobile services in 2020, based on average use across all mobile users, was over 20 per cent cheaper in real terms than in 2015, while people used 369 per cent more data.”

Ofcom has, for now, stopped short of introducing a mandatory social tariff across the industry. However, despite prices going down and services improving, it warned that a mandatory tariff could be introduced if the industry does not do more to offer affordable rates or to improve uptake of existing low-cost tariffs.

According to Ofcom’s research, uptake for cheaper plans offered by BT, Virgin Media, Hyperoptic, KCOM, Community Fibre and VOXI amounts to just 40,000 households, compared to 4.7 million homes reported to be struggling in the December report.

As a result, the regulator has again urged UK providers to support struggling customers and said that, in addition to a mandatory social tariff, it was considering strengthening protections for customers who were in debt or struggling to pay their bills.

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