Broadband companies must do more to keep financially vulnerable people connected to the internet, say industry experts.
Rocio Concha, from consumer group Which?, urged the government to take actions that would encourage people on benefits to sign up for social tariff broadband deals. Social tariffs are cheaper broadband packages for those claiming Universal Credit, Pension Credit, and other benefits.
Ms Concha highlighted that while cheaper social tariffs are available for most benefit claimants, only 3.2% of those who qualify are using them. Most people, it seems, are not aware that they exist.
She also suggested that broadband data should be exempt from VAT tax, like other essential utilities, including water and energy.
“Access to the internet is an essential utility in today’s world, as important as having access to water, gas, and electricity,” said Ms Concha
Cutting VAT on broadband would be relatively inexpensive compared to the long-term benefits, argued Ms Concha. A report by the Centre for Economics and Business Research found that cutting VAT on broadband would cost the government around £1.4 billion, but reducing digital exclusion in key and vulnerable groups could stimulate £13.7billion in economic activity during the next decade.
Financially vulnerable individuals should also be allowed to switch contracts without incurring expensive exit fees, said Ms Concha. Furthermore, she believes they should be exempt from upcoming broadband bill increases, which could be as high as 17% for some consumers.
The government responded by calling on firms to raise awareness of the social tariff deals. It’s yet to make any statement on cutting VAT for internet data.
Science Minister and digital committee member Michelle Donelan said that telecom bosses should reconsider the price rises. However, it’s highly unlikely that any of the upcoming price increases will be reversed.
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