Citizens Advice is calling on Ofcom and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to ensure all broadband providers offer affordable deals to those on low incomes, as 700,000 people fall into the red on their bills.
Research carried out by the charity found 2.5 million people are behind on their broadband bills, with young people and those with children under 18 three times more likely to be unable to keep up with the monthly payments.
In addition, households that are in receipt of Universal Credit are nine times more likely to have fallen behind on their broadband bills.
Dame Clare Moriarty, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Broadband is not a luxury, it’s an essential, like gas and electricity. Ofcom and the government must ensure everyone can afford their broadband, no matter which provider they are with. People shouldn’t be penalised simply because their provider isn’t one of the few firms that offers a cheaper tariff.”
At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, most people were working from home and schoolchildren were completing lessons online with some people utilising mobile data to get online.
According to Citizens Advice, UK adults spending an average of 22 hours online each week.
Ultimately, falling behind on bills can lead to broadband being disconnected. However, advisers at Citizens Advice also see people who cannot afford broadband in the first place or are cutting back elsewhere to keep their connection.
Moriarty added: “Lack of broadband creates yet another hurdle in the hunt for jobs, helping children with their schoolwork, and being able to access help, information and fill in forms online. Those with a broadband connection can have a huge head start on those who don’t.”
In December, the regulator urged all broadband providers to offer cheaper tariffs to low-income households or those who find themselves in financial difficulties. Since then, just two local providers have offered these types of deals.
Ofcom is expected to release a report this month into whether further action is needed.