An Ofcom study has revealed that while uptake of broadband social tariffs has quadrupled since January 2022, only 5.1% of those eligible have signed up, and around half don’t know about them.

Andrew Wooden

April 24, 2023

4 Min Read
Bill Contract Tear

An Ofcom study has revealed that while uptake of broadband social tariffs has quadrupled since January 2022, only 5.1% of those eligible have signed up, and around half don’t know about them.

An estimated 4.3 million households are eligible for broadband social tariffs, a scheme which provides people on Universal Credit and other benefits discounted broadband and mobile deals – however only 220,000 (or 5.1%) have snapped up the cheaper broadband deals, reckons Ofcom.

The study, put together alongside consumer watchdog Which?, says 53% are unaware of their existence and it is ‘concerned that broadband providers still aren’t being upfront with millions of customers about how to find and sign up to these packages.’ On average, it estimates eligible households could save £202 per year by switching to a social tariff.

Ofcom’s point is that it’s an awareness problem – presumably if more people knew they could get cheaper broadband through the social tariff scheme they would take them up. It conducted a review of broadband provider websites, and concluded that it was ‘challenging’ to find info about the offers in some cases, and in others it found incorrect information listed.

Naming no names, it does say it has asked some firms to review their social tariff webpages as a matter of urgency. It does call out TalkTalk and O2 however  – urging them to introduce social tariffs in the broadband and mobile markets and waive fees for any customers who want to switch providers to access one in the meantime.

“Hundreds of thousands of customers are now benefitting from the huge savings that can be made from securing a social tariff,” Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s Group Director, Network and Communications. “But millions are still missing out on superfast speeds for super low prices – with many not aware they even exist. We’re urging anyone who thinks they could be eligible for a discount deal to contact their provider today and potentially save hundreds of pounds. Providers should also do much more to help these customers find and access these deals, at a time when these savings could make a massive difference.

Rocio Concha, Which? Director of Policy and Advocacy added: “Broadband providers need to step up their efforts to promote their social tariffs to low-income consumers and ensure people aren’t missing out unnecessarily. They must also make sure customers do not have to pay any Early Termination Charges to move to another firm’s social tariff.”


Some don’t think Ofcom itself has done enough on the issue. Alex Tofts, broadband expert at Broadband Genie told “Soaring mid-contract price rises and recent high-profile outages have undermined the message that broadband is an essential service and, at times, Ofcom has looked slow to respond to the challenges consumers are facing.

“While the regulator cannot force the introduction of social tariffs, it can and should do more to pressure companies to promote them properly. Providers have had enough time to get used to these rates and should be making them easy to find. Sadly on some websites, these deals are hidden away like Easter eggs while more expensive — and higher margin — packages take centre stage.”

Ofcom and other government divisions have periodically applied pressure onto operators and ISPs encouraging them to make more noise over the existence of social tariffs – including a letter from the then UK Digital Secretary Nadine Dorries which asked them to ‘outline plans for promoting low-cost social tariffs’ for people on benefits.

If it’s true there is flat out incorrect information on the schemes out there that’s obviously not ideal – though Ofcom’s vague encouragement to ‘do more’ to promote them doesn’t seem to be backed up with the ability to enforce anything, which perhaps isn’t lending itself to dynamic action on the matter.

We’ll probably get some more of these announcements in the future, with the regulator seeming to have adopted a strategy to try and embarrass the providers into action. Another tactic would be a government consumer facing marketing campaign raising awareness of the social tariffs in general, but that never seems to be a route it opts for.


Get the latest news straight to your inbox. Register for the newsletter here.

About the Author(s)

Andrew Wooden

Andrew joins on the back of an extensive career in tech journalism and content strategy.

You May Also Like