Almost a fifth of UK households have struggled to pay their TV, internet and phone bills this year, with some resorting to cutting spending on food and clothing to make payments, according to a study by Ofcom which highlights the pressure the pandemic is putting on people’s finances. .
A study conducted by the telecommunications regulator found that 4.7 million households had difficulty paying their telecommunications bills in 2020. Of these, more than one million reduced their spending on products such as food. or clothing.
The coronavirus crisis has caused an increase in the use of services such as broadband and mobile phones, as millions of people have turned to working from home and lockdown restrictions have closed main streets in across the country.
“Lockdown has exposed our dependence on a reliable Internet connection,” said Lindsey Fussell, director of the network and communications group of Ofcom. “So it’s important that affordable options are available so that everyone can stay connected, especially those who have gone through difficult times.”
The country’s largest mobile telephony, pay-TV and telecommunications companies have attempted to support vulnerable customers, for example by offering low-cost plans to people receiving benefits. However, Ofcom said those companies could do more to help those in financial difficulty.
“While we applaud the support companies have provided to customers this year, some people continue to face challenges and it is clear that suppliers can do more to help customers who are in financial difficulty,” said Fussell .
Ofcom has called on telecom companies to offer affordable rates, specifically targeting low-income customers, while those that do, like BT and Virgin Media, have been asked to promote them better.
Alistair Cromwell, Acting CEO of Citizens Advice, said: “Since the start of the March lockdown, internet access has been vital for working from home, running small businesses, accessing essential services like health care and continuing education. It is essential that those in financial difficulty are not locked out. “
Ofcom said given the issues raised by its research and the difficult economic outlook, it plans to conduct additional research and publish a report on affordability and debt next year.
“If suppliers do not address our concerns through their current levels of support for financially distressed customers, we will consider other measures,” the regulator said. “This could include working with government to determine if an industry-wide regulated social tariff is needed.”