New research has warned that 2.5 million people in the UK are behind on their broadband bills, with 700,000 of those falling into debt during the pandemic.
According to a survey of 6,001 adults from Citizens Advice, 5% of respondents said that they are currently behind on their broadband bill. In addition, 3% said they had not been able to pay their broadband bills in February 2020.
The worst-affected age group was 18-34-year-olds, with 12% saying they were behind on their bills. This makes them three times as likely to be behind than older groups. In addition, households with children are three times as likely to have not paid their bills as those without children, with 9% saying they were behind.
18% of respondents on Universal Credit said they had not paid their bills, making them nine times more likely to be debt compared to those not on the benefit.
Furthermore, 3% said they had been disconnected from a telecoms service during the pandemic due to not having paid a landline, mobile or broadband bill.
The report comes as millions of people around the country rely on their home internet connections for work, education, and leisure. Data from Openreach found that UK internet use almost doubled across 2020, from an average of 22,000 petabytes per person in 2019 to 50,000 in 2020.
And according to statistics cited by Citizens Advice, UK adults are spending an average of 22 hours online each week.
The average UK broadband price is around £30.30 per month. Four of the major broadband providers, Sky, Virgin Media, BT and TalkTalk, raised prices by an average of £3.03 per month at the end of April. In addition, prices rose at the end of May for many customers as packages bought on Black Friday go up in price.
As the internet becomes an enabler for remote and flexible working and learning, this raises concerns about a digital divide affecting the country. Those who lack access to the internet, or cannot afford it, will be cut off from many vital services and resources.
- How the digital skills gap is hampering tech adoption among UK SMEs
- Companies investing more in privacy protection worldwide
- Twitter Blue | What does the new subscription service offer?
Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Dame Clare Moriarty said: “Broadband is not a luxury, it’s an essential, like gas and electricity.
“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.
“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 present, only Virgin Media and BT are among the major broadband providers offering discounted services.
A new report from Ofcom on whether further action is needed to ensure access to broadband is expected to be released this month.