MORE than one in six people are struggling to afford their broadband during the third lockdown, Citizens Advice has found.
This comes at a time when people are more reliant on broadband to work, teach their children and order essentials.
Citizens Advice found during first lockdown that certain groups were struggling with their broadband bill including people with children, disabled people, people from ethnic minorities, those who were shielding and young people.
It also found broadband customers in receipt of low-income benefits such as Universal Credit were almost twice as likely to struggle to pay their bill as other customers.
Towards the end of last year, an estimated 2.3 million people had fallen behind on their broadband bill.
In December, regulator Ofcom “strongly urged” all providers to consider offering cheaper tariffs for those on a low income or who are struggling financially.
Citizens Advice is calling on the government and Ofcom to fast-track these plans by making it compulsory for all providers to offer affordable tariffs to people on low-income benefits.
Only three of the largest 13 firms currently offer these tariffs.
“I can’t afford broadband, so when my mobile data runs out I can’t see my grandkids. Do you know how heartbreaking that is?”
Maxine, who lives alone, had to claim Universal Credit in March when her work in the hospitality industry stopped.
She said: “Throughout the lockdown the only way I’ve been able to see my elderly parents, and most of my grandkids is on video calls. I don’t have broadband as I can’t afford it, so when my mobile data has gone I can’t see them anymore.
“It’s really isolating being alone. There were times where if I ran out of data it would be weeks until I saw another person.”
Previously she would go to a friend’s house to use the internet.
She added: “I’m literally being penalised for not having access to the internet. Most things nowadays are online: food shopping when I was isolating, applications, checking my Universal Credit account, getting the best deal for gas and so forth.
“When you don’t have access to the internet you lose out as they put all the best deals and information online.”
Ned Dukes, advice worker at Citizens Advice, said: “Broadband allows people to be part of society. Without access to the internet, people are effectively locked out of key services and everything they need to live a full and proper life.
“But for people on welfare benefits, every single decision about how they spend £1 can make a difference. Broadband can be incredibly expensive.”
Alistair Cromwell, acting chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “The pandemic has cemented the fact that broadband is an essential utility. It is not a luxury for those who can afford it.
“Without broadband we struggle to teach our children, order food and medicines, work or search for a job.
“While the government has provided free laptops and mobile data to help children study at home, these are ultimately just a sticking plaster.
“To tackle the digital divide, it must take urgent action to ensure everyone can afford their broadband, no matter which provider they are with.’’
If you need help using the internet or computer, Dorset Council can provide technical support through its Digital Champions scheme. Phone 01305 221048 Monday to Friday from 10am to 12noon, or leave a message outside these times.
See more information on Dorset Council website Dorset Digital Hotline (dorsetcouncil.gov.uk).
For further assistance, contact Bridport & District Citizens Advice. Telephone Freephone 0800 144 8848, send an email using the contact form at www.bridportca.org.uk or leave a message on 01308 456594.