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Broadband for people on benefits: cheap broadband for Universal Credit and other benefits

As our world becomes increasingly connected and more aspects of our lives shift online, the digital divide between those who have access to the internet and those who do not is a growing problem.

One reason for this can be the cost of getting broadband. In particular, anyone receiving benefits such as Universal Credit, Job Seekers Allowance, housing benefit, disability allowance, or Personal Independence Payment, may struggle to find an affordable broadband service. 

The good news is that there are options. Not only can you find standard cheap broadband deals from under £20, but there are discounts available specifically for those receiving certain benefits. 

In this guide, we’ll explain your options for getting cheap home broadband on benefits and also show you a few alternatives for getting internet access for free.

Cheap broadband deals for people on benefits: what can you get?

The following broadband packages are all aimed at people receiving specific benefits. The providers will verify you receive benefits, so you will need to provide some additional information when signing up for these deals compared to a regular broadband service.

If you are not receiving any of the eligible benefits, you will not be able to sign up for these services. Instead, read on below for more information about cheap broadband deals that anyone can get.

BT Basic + Broadband

BT Basic is a very cheap phone line service, to which you can add broadband for a small extra fee.

BT Basic costs £5.16 per month, which includes line rental, free weekend calls, £1.50 call credit, and a £10 monthly price cap. 

Broadband can be added for a total cost of £10.07. This is an ADSL service with an average download speed of 10Mb. It previously had a 15GB per month data usage limit but was made unlimited during the coronavirus outbreak.

BT Basic is available for recipients of the following benefits:

  • Income Support.
  • Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance.
  • Pensions Credit (Guaranteed Credit).
  • Employment and Support Allowance (income related).
  • Universal Credit (and are on zero earnings).

Universal Credit recipients must have no earnings during the claim period, so if you’re using it to top-up earnings from a low income then you will not be eligible for BT Basic.

It’s important to note that BT Basic is soon going to be superseded by the new BT Home Essentials service (see below). Existing BT Basic customers will not have to move to Home Essentials, but from June 2021 no new customers will be allowed to join. If you don’t think you’d benefit from the faster speeds of Home Essentials, you should sign up for BT Basic now to lock in the lower price.

BT Home Essentials

BT Home Essentials is a new low-cost broadband and phone service which launches in June 2021. 

It provides fibre optic broadband with an average speed of either 36Mb or 67Mb; the 36Mb service with 700 minutes of calls is just £15 per month, while the 67Mb package (including unlimited calls) is £20. You can also get a phone line only service with unlimited calling for £10 per month.

It is more expensive than BT Basic but much cheaper than the regular BT pricing (which starts at around £28 per month for 36Mb fibre).

To get BT Home Essentials, you must be in receipt of the following benefits: 

  • Income Support.
  • Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance.
  • Pensions Credit (Guaranteed Credit).
  • Employment and Support Allowance (income related).
  • Universal Credit (and are on zero earnings).

Hyperoptic Fair Fibre

Hyperoptic offers discounted price plans for those on certain benefits. With Fair Fibre, you can get £7 off its 50Mb broadband service and £10 off the 150Mb package.

Fair Fibre is available to recipients of: 

  • Income Support.
  • Pension Credit.
  • Income-related Job Seekers Allowance (JSA).
  • Housing Benefit.
  • Personal Independence Payment.
  • Attendance Allowance.
  • Universal Credit.
  • Care Leavers support.
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance (EAS).

With prices starting at £15 for 50Mb broadband or £25 for 150Mb, Hyperoptic Fair Fibre is one of the best value deals available to people on benefits as it’s much faster than most other providers. 

However, the availability of Hyperoptic services is very limited. It is a Fibre To The Premises (FTTP) provider which operates its own network, and at present only a small percentage of homes will be able to get Hyperoptic. 

KCOM Flex

If you live in Hull or other parts of Yorkshire and Lincolnshire covered by its network, KCOM offers cheaper Flex packages to any customers who meet the eligibility criteria. 

Flex prices start at £9 per month for ADSL, but only if you live in an area without fibre broadband access. If you can get fibre, you’ll need to sign up for Lightstream Flex at £20 per month.

ADSL packages have a data usage limit, while Lightstream Flex is currently unlimited until further notice. All have a 12 month minimum contract term and include line rental and a small inclusive call allowance.

KCOM offers Flex to customers who meet the following criteria: 

  • Income Support.
  • Pension Credit.
  • Job Seekers Allowance.
  • Housing Benefit.
  • Personal Independence Payment.
  • Attendance Allowance.
  • Universal Credit, with zero earnings.
  • Care Home residents and Lifeline customers who are referred via Social Services.
  • Care Leavers supported by Children's Support.
  • Individuals on the Government’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Shielded Patients List (until such time as Coronavirus no longer requires these individuals to practice social shielding).
  • Employment and Support Allowance (EAS) (income related).

Hull is the only area of the UK not served by the BT network, so if you live there KCOM Flex is your equivalent to BT Basic or BT Home Essentials.

Virgin Media Essential

Virgin Media Essential broadband is a service for existing Virgin Media customers who receive Universal Credit. On Essential you get a broadband-only service with a download speed of 15Mb for £15 per month. It does not include a phone line, and there is no way to add one, so you should not use this service if you require a landline for emergencies.

Unusually, there is no option to sign up for Essential Broadband without being a Virgin Media broadband customer. This limits its usefulness to those who are already with Virgin and need to reduce costs when their circumstances change. You could sign up for a regular Virgin Media deal then switch to Essential, but you’ll have to pay some of the regular monthly cost before it switches over, and probably a setup fee too (and if your application is rejected for any reason you’ll be committed to a standard Virgin Media contract).

Do I need a broadband for benefits deal? Is this the best option for me?

Broadband deals for benefit recipients are often good value for money and may result in a significant and extremely welcome saving. If you need to keep costs as low as possible then you won’t find much cheaper than the deals listed above.

But they can have caveats that make them unsuitable for some people, such as:

Data limits: Broadband deals for benefits recipients can have monthly data usage limits, with some kind of penalty (typically a reduction in speed) if you exceed the cap. 

When possible, we always recommend an unlimited broadband package, but if you have to choose a deal with a limit then you’ll need to monitor data usage and perhaps cut back on data-intensive activities (such as video streaming) when you approach the cap.

Phone lines: Most broadband packages require an Openreach (BT) network phone line. Even if the provider uses a different network, some kind of fixed line will almost always be a requirement. If this is a problem you will need to consider a wireless alternative (probably mobile broadband, though other types of wireless broadband are available).

Every broadband deal which needs a phone line to work will include line rental in the price. But some providers - such as Hyperoptic and Virgin Media - do not require a phone line and so this feature may cost extra or might not be available at all.

Not everyone will need or want a landline but if it is required then you should check this is an option, especially if the service is intended for vulnerable people who may require a fixed-line for emergency services.

Inclusive calls: Most broadband deals for benefits packages which include a phone line will come with some call allowance. This can be quite generous (for example, BT Basic has a £10 spending cap which means you’ll never be charged more than £10 no matter how many calls are made) but others might be fairly limited. 

If the landline is going to be used frequently then an inclusive calls package can be valuable. Alternatively, consider a mobile SIM deal with inclusive calling minutes instead of the landline.

Slower speeds
Customers on benefits may get slower speeds than those available with other deals from the same provider. This might not matter - after all, some internet access is better than nothing - but just because you’re receiving benefits it doesn’t mean you need to accept a subpar broadband experience. You should still try to get a broadband service that delivers suitable speeds for your home by considering what the connection is going to be used for, and how many people are sharing the broadband. 

In general, individuals or a couple with light usage (web browsing, email, social media) can get by with an ADSL service at a speed of around 10Mb, which means the cheapest benefits deals will be suitable. But fibre optic broadband is recommended for families and shared homes, for which you will need to pay a little more.

Cheap broadband deals anyone can get

If you don’t qualify for any of the broadband deals for benefit recipients it doesn’t mean you can’t make savings, as there are still plenty of options for cheap home broadband. 

But even if you are on benefits it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t also take the time to compare regular broadband deals to see how they stack up, especially if you are concerned about any of the limitations of a broadband for benefits package. While some of these deals are very cheap, there may be other options that provide broadband without restrictions for a very similar cost. In some cases — particularly now that BT Basic is coming to an end — these benefits deals may not beat the lowest price you could get with some regular budget broadband offers.

Here are a few of the cheapest deals currently available: 

Dynamic deal panel

This is just a selection; check out our full range of cheap broadband offers to see what else you could get. Enter a postcode to find out what’s available in your area, and use our filters and the table sorting to narrow down the options.

Many deals include free gifts which can make regular broadband packages cheaper than those offered to benefits recipients when you deduct the value of the reward. But it’s important to check the terms and conditions so you know what is required to claim the reward and to keep in mind that — with the exception of bill credit offers — you are still going to have to pay the regular monthly price.

Broadband without a credit check

Signing up for a broadband deal can mean passing a credit check, but there are deals that do not have a credit check or have very low requirements. So if you’ve got any dings on your financial record you are not excluded from getting broadband.

Some of the providers which offer broadband without a credit check include: 

Broadband deals for those on benefits may still require a credit check, though they might be more forgiving. For example, BT Home Essentials includes a credit check but the requirements to pass are lower than its other broadband packages.

To find out more, and compare no credit check deals, read our guide to getting broadband without a credit check

What happens to the broadband if circumstances change and I stop receiving benefits?

Providers will verify that you are in receipt of a qualifying benefit when signing up. They will also perform regular checks (typically at the end of each contract term) to see if you still qualify.

If you are no longer eligible the provider will move you to one of their standard services. This will be the simplest option as it will not involve any disruption to your broadband service, but it might not be the best value deal. Always compare deals to see what else is out there; switching providers is easy and lets you take advantage of the best offers aimed at new customers.

Alternatives to home broadband: free and cheap ways to get online

Can’t get a home broadband deal? It doesn’t mean you have to be cut off from the internet, here are a few other ways you can get broadband, some of which are free. 

Public Wi-Fi hotspots
There are thousands of public Wi-Fi points all over the country in cafes, pubs, shops, restaurants, supermarkets, and many other locations. In some instances, you might need to make a purchase to use them, but lots are free to access. 

Library computers
Public libraries have computers that anyone can use, making them a valuable resource if you do not currently have a computer or any other device which can access the internet. Many offer Wi-Fi access, too.

Smartphone tethering
If you already have or can get a smartphone, then you might not need a separate home broadband service. Smartphones can be connected to a computer over Wi-Fi so you can use the phone’s data link to access the internet. Tethering is very easy to use, and if you’re already paying for a mobile service it may not cost any extra. 

You should confirm with your network provider that they allow tethering, and if you plan on using it regularly it’s advisable to look for a mobile plan with a very high data cap (unlimited, if possible) and to monitor data usage to avoid extra charges.

BT Wi-Fi
BT Wi-Fi is a public hotspot network with access points around the UK. BT Broadband customers get free access as a perk, but anyone else can use it by paying for a variety of flexible packages. You can purchase it on a pay-as-you-go basis for as little as an hour at a time, or sign up for longer-term access which provides unlimited data for an unlimited number of devices (just £15 per month if you commit for a year).

The usefulness of BT Wi-Fi will depend on your proximity to an access point, but if you do have one nearby then it’s worth considering as it does not require you to have anything other than a device capable of connecting to Wi-Fi.

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