UK telecoms industry agrees plan to help struggling customers

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The UK’s biggest mobile and broadband companies have agreed a plan to help customers struggling to pay bills amid the cost of living crisis, including moves to allow switching to cheaper deals without paying a penalty.

The package was agreed at a summit at Downing Street, co-chaired by the culture secretary, Nadine Dorries, and the cost of living business tsar, David Buttress, and attended by the top executives of the country’s biggest telecoms firms, including BT, Virgin Media O2, Vodafone, Three, Sky and TalkTalk.

The companies, which introduced inflation-busting increases to household phone and internet bills earlier this year, agreed a five-point plan of formal commitments to support customers struggling with soaring inflation, energy costs and tax rises.

The commitments, which take effect immediately, include allowing customers struggling with bills to move to cheaper packages without charge or penalty. Early termination charges can spiral to hundreds of pounds if multiple telecoms services are cancelled.

Other measures include allowing those struggling with bills to move on to manageable repayment plans, and launching and promoting more social tariffs across the industry.

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While some companies such as BT have had social tariffs available to vulnerable customers for a number of years, others, like Sky and Vodafone, have only recently made such packages available to customers.

“Families across the country face increased anxiety about keeping up with bills,” said Dorries, who wrote to telecoms bosses in April urging better promotion of social tariffs. “The industry is listening and has signed up to new commitments offering customers struggling with the cost of living help to stay connected.”

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According to those attending, executives suggested the government could also help by cutting VAT on telecoms bills to 5%, as occurred in other sectors of industry during the coronavirus pandemic.

Other industry-wide commitments include agreeing to treat those struggling with bills with “compassion and understanding” and ensuring the most vulnerable do not get cut off.

The government has previously said that while an estimated five million households in receipt of benefits are eligible to receive cut-price deals, less than 100,000 have taken them up.

“The telecoms sector knows that people are facing real challenges with the cost of living crisis,” said Andrew Glover, chair of the Internet Services Providers’ Association. “Our members are determined to do what they can to help their customers through this period and, together with government, we will work to raise greater awareness of the support available.”

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