Virgin Media O2 has today expanded its list of services that can be accessed without eating into mobile data allowances, adding fuel poverty, debt advice and financial support organisations as part of a wide range of measures targeted at those struggling most in the cost-of-living crisis.
Customers of both O2 and Virgin Mobile will be able to access the National Debtline, Business Debtline, Turn2us, Debt Advice Foundation and National Energy Action without using any of their mobile data. They join existing zero-rated websites such as Citizens Advice, Money Advice Service and debt charity, Step Change, all of which provide a range of impartial and trusted advice to individuals struggling with debt or to manage their finances. Virgin Media’s broadband packages already come with no data limits or caps.
As the cost-of-living crisis deepens, new research for Virgin Media O2 reveals that nearly two thirds (64%) of low-income households say they have worried about running out of data in the past 3 months, with half (50%) saying they could not afford to buy more if they ran out. Ofcom estimates that data poverty is an issue for around 2 million households in the UK.
Building on recent commitments it made to ensure customers stay connected and are treated fairly, the operator is stepping up efforts to support families and businesses struggling with their finances due to the current economic climate.
Virgin Media was one of the first telecoms providers to launch a broadband package for those facing financial difficulty and receiving Universal Credit. Launched in November 2020, Essential Broadband costs just £15 a month and offers speeds of 15Mbps. The plan has no fixed-term contract length and no price changes while Universal Credit payments are being received. Other operators have since followed suit and introduced similar social tariffs.
The company also provides a fixed price landline only service which provides inclusive evening and weekend calls and keeps prices fixed for phone-only customers who are over the age of 65 or those who have additional accessibility needs.
Following an industry summit at No 10 Downing Street last month, Virgin Media O2, alongside other providers, also committed to a package of measures to help customers who can no longer afford their bills to stay connected. This includes treating customers struggling with the cost-of-living with compassion, protecting vulnerable customers and offering them ways to stay connected.
Gareth Turpin, Chief Commercial Officer at Virgin Media O2, said: “We are committed to supporting all our customers and the communities we serve through the cost-of-living crisis. We’ve already put in place comprehensive support measures for those hit hardest, set up a foodbank for mobile data to tackle digital exclusion and provide our customers with great value services every day as we continue to keep the country connected.
“Through further expanding our zero-rated list, we’re making sure all of our customers can easily access help and advice at a time when they may need it most.”
National Energy Action Chief Executive Adam Scorer says: “The energy crisis is already making life difficult for millions and we know that come October – when the average annual energy bill could rise to over £3,000 and the cold weather arrives – it will be even harder. By offering their customers the chance to access our site without using their mobile data, Virgin Media O2 has recognised what a huge issue fuel poverty is. We are pleased O2 and Virgin Mobile customers will be able to access National Energy Action’s webchat, energy advice line, energy saving leaflets and other resources much more easily.”
Jane Tully, Director of External Affairs and Partnerships at the Money Advice Trust, the charity that runs National Debtline and Business Debtline, said: “We are pleased to see Virgin Media O2 expand their list of services that can be accessed without using mobile data allowances, to include National Debtline and Business Debtline websites.
“At a time when households are increasingly worried about their finances as a result of rising costs, ensuring people are able to receive the free, independent advice they need is more important than ever. This is a positive step and should make access to a range of support websites even easier.”
Virgin Media O2 is also committed to supporting communities around the country and tackling data poverty by connecting 1 million digitally excluded people by 2025. The operator created the first ever National Databank to tackle data poverty by providing free mobile data to people in need. Gifted to the Good Things Foundation to run through its network of 5,000 community organisations, and with other operators now part of the initiative, the National Databank launched with 7.5 million GB of O2 mobile data to help more than 200,000 people get connected by the end of 2023.
Virgin Media O2 also has pledged to connect community centres around the country to gigabit broadband and has launched a programme called Community Calling to provide devices to those in need.
Notes to Editors
Virgin Media O2 has published support and guidance for customers who need extra help with their services or are struggling with their bills. It is available here: Virgin Media O2 – Response to cost-of-living crisis – Virgin Media O2
Research carried out in July 2022 by Strand with a sample of 1,012 nationally representative members of the UK public. Low-income households are those with an income of less than £25,000.
Ofcom data poverty statistic from Ofcom Affordability of Communications Services report, February 2022.