Lib Dems demand broadband discounts for the vulnerable as energy bills 'skyrocket'

The Liberal Democrats have demanded broadband discounts for the vulnerable at a time when energy bills are “skyrocketing”.

The Lib Dems have demanded broadband discounts
The Lib Dems have demanded broadband discounts

Jamie Stone MP has written to the Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries calling for a meeting to discuss the potential of the Government pushing Ofcom to instate mandatory social tariffs for broadband and mobile providers.

The Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross MP’s letter comes shortly after new research revealed more than seven million low income households are paying too much for their broadband because the Government has not forced providers to offer cheaper tariffs.

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He said: “This pandemic has forced all of us, from age 9 to 99, to get online. Digital connectivity is more important now than it ever has been, and that is unlikely to change.

"Energy bills have skyrocketed, with people spending more time at home and the global rise in wholesale costs. If vulnerable households could save a bit of money on broadband and mobile, it could make a huge difference.

"Changes to the rules came in last year that meant that social tariffs could be made mandatory, but this Government has let this slip through the net. Thousands, if not millions, of households are paying more for broadband than they should be and it's time the Government intervened."

The letter from the DCMS spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats was also signed by a number of Lib Dem peers.

They include Lord McNally, Baroness Bonham-Carter, Lord Clement-Jones, Baroness Kramer and Lord Fox.

It explains there are only a few broadband and mobile providers that offer social tariffs to consumers on low incomes or with special social needs, including BT (BT Basic), Virgin Media (Essential Broadband), Hyperoptic (Fair Fibre Plan), and KCOM (Flex packages).

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However, even these deals have low take-up because companies are not doing enough to promote them, according to a report by Ofcom.

The letter explains: “We note that in December 2020, amendments were made to the Communications Act 2003 that mean that Ofcom now has powers, with Government direction, to consider the need for industry-wide social tariffs for particular groups of customers.

"In an age where digital connectivity is more important than ever, this change could make a huge positive difference to thousands, if not millions of vulnerable households.

“We ask to meet with you in the new year to discuss the potential of the Government instructing Ofcom to instate mandatory and universal broadband and mobile social tariffs for vulnerable consumers.”

It comes as new research showed almost half a million Scots have cut back on food spending in order to afford energy bills.

Polling by YouGov on behalf of Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) also found some 54 per cent say they have had to reduce household expenditure at least once to afford bills.

A DCMS spokesperson said: "Everyone deserves affordable broadband. We've successfully negotiated with BT, Virgin Media and others to offer low-cost broadband deals for anyone on Universal Credit or other means-tested benefits.

"Eligible households in 99 per cent of the UK can access these tariffs, and we are continuing to work with providers to bring even more affordable tariffs to the market."

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