There’s a growing assumption that we can all do everything online now but, because of my financial situation after COVID-19, I had to cancel my phone and internet contract. I would never have imagined how restrictive not being online could be.

Maggie

Maggie’s story is not uncommon. Broadband affordability is a huge concern for many people in later life, some of whom feel they have no other option but to cancel their service because they can no longer afford it. In September at Independent Age, we launched our new report ‘A constant struggle: the impact of high household costs on older people facing financial hardship’, an in-depth look at the impact that rising costs, including broadband, are having on older people living on a low income. Given the extent to which broadband social tariffs are under-claimed, we’re calling on providers and the UK Government to take action to ensure that people in later life aren’t missing out on these cheaper tariffs they’re entitled to.

Cost of getting online

Older people facing financial hardship have told us how worried they are about the cost of broadband, and about the steps they are forced to take to manage their bills. Polling we commissioned from YouGov found that almost half (48%) said they have struggled to keep up with their broadband bills over the past six months, and others have shared with us how they are forced to prioritise between essentials to keep their broadband.

Having my broadband is my only means of communication with the outside world via email, messages, phone etc. I cut back on food and cut down on other bills to be able to afford my internet provider.

Anonymous, 60

But, alongside other rising household bills, broadband is simply unaffordable for some older people on a low income. Around 1 in 10 (9%) had cancelled their internet or phone services over the winter months to save money, while another 4% had already cancelled it before the winter for the same reason. Being offline can have a considerable negative impact on someone’s life, including greater risk of isolation from friends, family and services, and missing out on cheaper deals and savings, so these trends are incredibly concerning.

Awareness of broadband financial support

Social tariffs are lower-cost tariffs that are available to people on certain government benefits, such as Pension Credit, and can be a great help for those in financial hardship. But while most major broadband providers offer them, very few eligible older people are aware they exist, or they don’t know much about them.

I don’t have broadband; I don’t understand it and I want to learn more about it. The cost is far too high and it’s too much for what I want to use it for. Social tariffs would be something I’d be interested in if it was explained to me.

Audrey

We believe that more should be done to ensure that older people are getting the financial support they are entitled to. Independent Age is calling on all broadband providers and the UK Government to proactively promote social tariffs and target this activity at all eligible groups, including older people on low incomes who receive Pension Credit.

When social tariffs are still unaffordable

It’s worth bearing in mind that some older people on a low income have told Independent Age that the average cost of a broadband social tariff (around £17) is still too high. It’s therefore essential that the UK Government looks at what can be done to reduce the cost of broadband social tariffs for those on the lowest incomes to a more affordable level, such as removing VAT on these tariffs and ensuring that the savings are passed on to consumers.

Cost should not be a barrier that removes people’s choice to be online, but this is the hidden reality for many in later life. Targeted solutions are urgently needed to ensure that this is no longer the case.

Find out more about Independent Age’s  recommendations and research on rising household costs and their impact on older people in financial hardship by reading our report.

 

Written by Alexandra Holmes, Policy Manager at Independent Age