Expanded eligibility criteria will allow 9.7 million people to benefit from cut-price broadband as the operator extends support in the cost-of-living crisis
· Automatic verification tool now in place means claimants do not have to repeatedly prove their benefit status to access discounted social tariffs, making it faster and easier to sign up
· Virgin Media O2 has renewed its calls for VAT cuts to social tariffs
London, 01 March 2022: Virgin Media O2 has significantly expanded its support for those hit hardest by the cost-of-living crisis by enabling more people than ever to sign up to its social broadband tariffs.
From today, 9.7 million people in the UK receiving Income-based Employment Support Allowance (I-ESA), Income-based Jobseekers Allowance (I-JSA), Income Support (IS), Pension Credit (PC) or Universal Credit (UC) are now eligible for the provider’s social tariffs, Essential Broadband and Essential Broadband Plus.
The change has been made possible after Virgin Media O2 became one of the first major telecoms providers to fully integrate the Department for Work and Pensions’ social tariff checking tool. This makes it faster and easier for customers to prove their eligibility with an automated check. The change will mean low-income families and those who need support most can receive fast, reliable and cheap broadband more quickly.
The price of basic Essential Broadband, which was initially available to just those receiving Universal Credit, was cut by 16% to £12.50 per month last year for all new and existing customers, making it one of the cheapest packages in the market. Virgin Media O2 later released a new, faster tier called ‘Essential Broadband Plus’ that delivers speeds of 54Mbps for just £20 per month. All Essential Broadband products come with no fixed-term contract and no activation fees.
The provider has taken many proactive steps to raise awareness of the support it is offering during the cost-of-living crisis. This includes making information about Essential Broadband easier to find on its website; raising awareness through social media channels; and including details within the communications sent to customers every year related to their contract. This has led to a 424% increase in sign-ups last year.
Along with consumer bodies, including Which?, the business is also calling for a cut in VAT on social tariffs, from 20% to no more than 5%, which is in line with other utilities such as gas and electricity. Virgin Media O2 has committed to directly pass on any VAT cut in a price reduction to all its Essential Broadband plans, which will mean a further price drop to just £10.93 for 15Mbps and £17.50 for 54Mbps packages, helping to generate extra savings for households that need them most each month.
Jeff Dodds, Chief Operating Officer, Virgin Media O2 said: “As the first major provider to introduce a social tariff, and the only operator to have cut the price of this, we have a history of stepping up in tough times. Connectivity remains essential in so many ways, so we are expanding the eligibility criteria for our social tariffs to make it easier and faster for millions more low-income families to access this support during the cost-of-living crisis.”
Abigail Wood, CEO, Age UK London said: “We know from our own research that 20 percent of people in London over the age of 65 do not use the internet as much as they would like because they don’t have access to broadband or suitable equipment. Age UK London has been calling for internet providers to ensure that older consumers aren’t excluded from accessing the cheapest broadband deals, so today’s announcement is a really positive step forward.”
Virgin Media O2 is the only provider that also offers a dedicated entertainment option for social tariff customers. Essential Broadband Plus customers have the option to add Virgin Media O2’s latest entertainment product, called Stream, for an upfront, one-off fee of just £20 – a 42% saving on the normal £35 charge – with no long-term contract or ongoing charges for the basic package. Stream simply plugs into any TV and seamlessly combines live TV, on-demand apps, popular streaming subscriptions and must-watch movies all in one place with personalisation and flexibility at its core.
Any customer taking Stream can get 10% credit back on the subscriptions they add to the service via their Virgin Media bill, giving customers a more affordable way to subscribe to major streaming services.
Virgin Media was the one of the first providers to create a broadband social tariff in 2020 and has consistently provided support to vulnerable customers and those struggling to afford connectivity. This includes a fixed price landline service called Talk Protected, tailored support and services to customers with additional needs and help with bill payments for those struggling. It also became the biggest ‘zero-rater’ of support services in the UK last year after it expanded the list of websites that customers can access without using any data to include fuel poverty, debt advice and financial support organisations.
National Databank – free mobile connectivity for those who need it most
As part of an ongoing commitment to tackling data poverty, Virgin Media O2 also founded the UK’s first ever National Databank, in partnership with charity, Good Things Foundation, to provide free mobile data to people who need it. Virgin Media O2 is donating more than 61 million GB of free O2 data to the National Databank to help people most affected by the cost of living crisis to stay connected. The National Databank is like a foodbank but for free mobile data, texts, and calls, which can be accessed through more than 900 of Good Things Foundation’s community partners across the UK. The provider also put the Databank front and centre of its 2022 Christmas advertising campaign, alongside bringing the initiative to ten O2 stores meaning this support is available on the High Street for the first time.
Continued value for all customers
Outside of targeted measures for those receiving benefits or needing financial support, Virgin Media O2 continues to provide its customers with fantastic value. The company delivers the fastest widely available broadband speeds in the market, as well as a range of flexible and customisable mobile packages, whilst also providing O2 and Virgin Media broadband customers with access to Priority – one of the UK’s most valued loyalty schemes. The organisation is also the only mobile provider to not have reintroduced EU roaming charges. Combining Virgin Media broadband and O2 mobile services through the operator’s Volt bundles gives Virgin Media O2 customers added extras and benefits, such as speed and data boosts.