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Broadband for low income families

By Tim Smith | Wednesday, July 28th 2021

Families and individuals on low incomes in the UK can still have broadband, but finding the right connection at the right price when finances are tight can be daunting.

If you or your family are on a tight budget, maybe receiving income support, and/or working anti-social hours, you want a broadband deal that serves your needs and doesn’t cost the Earth. Whatever your situation, our guide will help you get connected at the right price.

Broadband deals for low income families

Despite broadband being considered a basic utility, you would think there would be schemes to help low-income families get online. But there aren't. The closest there is to that in the telecoms world is BT Basic, which is a means to get a very cheap phone line should you qualify (it's means-tested).

Beyond that, it's going to come down to finding the best possible deal so you are at least spending as little as possible.

BT Basic and BT Home Essentials

Although many suppliers offer what they call ‘low cost’ broadband deals, there is only one supplier in the UK that specifically offers anything at all for families or individuals on low incomes. BT Basic is a low-cost phone service for people on specific means-tested benefits. Those means-tests are:

  • Income Support
  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Pensions Credit (Guaranteed Credit)
  • Employment and Support Allowance (Income related)
  • Universal Credit (and are on zero earnings)

BT Basic costs just £5.10 per month and includes £1.50 of calls. There is a price cap set at £10 so you won’t be charged above that. You can also choose to have BT Basic broadband – this is a standard broadband connection with 15GB monthly usage. Alternatively, you can sign up for BT Home Essentials, which is a fibre service with speeds up to 67Mbps costing just £15 per month.

What is the cheapest broadband option?

There are essentially three ways of getting broadband into your home: ADSL, cable, and fibre. The ADSL option (also known as standard broadband) will usually be the cheapest. Although it won't reach the ultra high speeds of fibre or cable, ADSL (usually around 10-11Mbps) will easily be fast enough for browsing the web, sending and receiving emails and even streaming music and movies.

You will find that you'll have to take a landline phone connection with any ADSL deal. This is simply because of the way that ADSL is connected to your home. This means that you are also likely to get some landline phone costs included in your ADSL deal. You should make certain to check on those phone costs too.

How can I make my broadband deal cheaper?

First of all, before you even think of signing a deal with a broadband supplier, always look at what is called the 'total contract cost' not just the monthly cost or the total first year cost. The total contract cost shows you the minimum you will pay for the length of time you'll sign up for. If that total contract cost isn't quoted, you should ask for it.

The total monthly cost won't include the set-up/installation costs or any additional connection charges.

Also remember that the total yearly cost is not the same as the total amount you'll pay if you're tied into an 18-month contract. In all cases, using the included landline is not free unless explicitly stated, and charges can pile up. Many providers now do not include any free calls – you often have to pay extra even for evening and weekend calls. If you make a lot of calls, it could be worth adding this on, or consider using your inclusive calls on a mobile phone instead.

All in all, you should make sure you know if, and how much, you are being charged for the following:

  • Line rental – Whether you make calls or not, you will always have to pay for line rental – this is included in the advertised price for the broadband
  • Local call charges – Ideally these should be free
  • National calls charges – Ideally these should be free too
  • Calls to mobiles – You will be charged for these calls
  • International calls – You will be charged for these calls
  • Calls to international mobiles – You will be charged a lot for these calls
  • 'Other calls not included in your package' – This looks vague because it is. It can cover things like calls to 0845 and 0870 numbers for example

All those costs might look worrying if you're on a low income. Remember that you don't have to use that landline so you’ll only incur the line rental cost each month if you choose not to make any calls.

Will my credit history stop me getting cheap broadband?

Most broadband suppliers will carry out credit checks on you before offering a contract. If your credit history (you may also see this written as ‘credit rating’) is poor, you may be rejected. Don’t despair, you can still get broadband at home. There are options for PAYG and also 'no contract' deals available. The no-contract choice usually ties you to a month-long contract which rolls over. Beware though that both PAYG and monthly/no contract deals usually come with hefty set-up costs ranging from £30 to upwards of £50, and can cost more than similar contracted deals.

Some broadband providers do no credit checks at all. Right now those are NOW Broadband, Plusnet, and Direct Save Telecom. If you're really worried about your credit score and want a contract deal, you should check what they have to offer.

You can check your credit history and score for free at sites including: Experian, Money Supermarket, Clearscore and many others.

Can I get broadband for free?

The short answer to this one is: no, you can't get free broadband. There are no free deals in the UK no matter where you look. If you are offered or you see a deal that claims to be free, check the small print – you will end up paying one way or the other.

What tends to be hidden in the details of the advertising for broadband that seems to be free are things like: charges for the delivery and installation of your router, connection charges, call charges using the bundled landline phone. So, be sure to read any terms and conditions, and look at all the details at check-out before you actually check out.

Finally, if any of the details are not clear and obvious to you, remember that you can ask for all charges related to the broadband deal to be explained to you by the supplier. If the supplier can't or won't do this, it's best for you to move on. There are plenty of broadband suppliers available.

Frequently asked questions

Are monthly or PAYG go broadband contracts cheaper than yearly or longer?

Not always. There are one-month and PAYG broadband deals out there that look as if they cost under £20 until you look at the set-up cost, which can be high. Check the details.

Are all phone charges the same for ADSL broadband?

Absolutely not. If you intend to use the landline phone that comes with an ADSL broadband package, make sure to check the small print for how much a simple local call costs. Charges vary wildly depending on the number you call – local calls tend to be very cheap, but calls to premium numbers or international numbers can be very expensive. There may also be charges for calls to mobiles, and what are called ‘other calls not included in your package'.

Do I need fast broadband if I can't really afford it?

Keep in mind that faster usually means more expensive. If you just need it to send and receive emails, browse the web for cheap online shopping deals then ADSL speeds should be fine for you. If you want to play online video games or transfer lots of data (for example photos) then you'll be more suited to a fibre broadband plan. A number of providers no longer even offer ADSL, making an entry-level fibre speed the only option. Happily the price of fibre has now come down and in many cases is comparable to the cost of an ADSL deal.

What's cheaper ADSL, fibre or cable broadband?

ADSL is still the cheapest option for home broadband, but you can now get an entry-level fibre package for less than five pounds a month extra. Virgin Media’s cable broadband is still somewhat more expensive.

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