Which providers offer the best social tariff broadband?

9 min Read Published: 24 Jan 2024

Who offers the best social tariff broadband?Some households in the UK may find that a traditional broadband contract is financially out of reach. A broadband connection is an essential part of modern life for most people, but it is also an extra bill that can put additional strain on struggling households. Many internet service providers offer heavily discounted deals that include signup bonuses and extras to entice new customers, but there are also dedicated deals designed to help people on a low income.

Often referred to as social tariff broadband deals, these packages are exclusively for customers claiming certain types of benefits and other financial support. This article explains how these cheaper tariffs work and how to sign up your household.

What are social tariff broadband deals?

Social tariff broadband deals are discounted internet packages aimed at low-income households on certain benefits. These deals are usually cheaper than what is available on the wider broadband market, in some cases charging less than £15 a month.

Millions of UK households are eligible for social tariff broadband deals that can translate to savings of hundreds of pounds over the course of a year.

Who can get social tariff broadband?

The eligibility criteria for social tariff broadband will vary between internet providers, but most include customers on state benefits that involve means testing, most commonly Universal Credit or Pension Credit. Some internet service providers will include other benefits as part of eligibility criteria, such as Jobseeker’s Allowance or Income Support.

If you do not receive a means-tested state benefit, TalkTalk – in partnership with the DWP (Department for Work and Pensions) – offers six months of free broadband to select jobseekers without an existing internet connection. Jobcentre staff decide who is eligible, so speak to your assigned work coach to find out if you can access the deal.

Keep in mind that social tariff broadband may not be for everyone. Some standard deals can actually be cheaper initially, though they may be subject to in-contract price hikes and become more expensive once the contracted period ends. Standard deals may also offer faster speeds, while social broadband may not cater to households that are limited in what type of broadband they can get. Make sure to compare social tariff broadband with regular deals to find the best deal.

Social tariff broadband deals

Many internet service providers offer social broadband deals, and the number is continuing to grow. Here we run through the packages offered by some of the UK’s main broadband suppliers. This is a limited selection, so ask your current provider if it offers specialised deals for customers on certain benefits.

BT broadband social tariff

BT’s social tariff broadband is branded as BT Home Essentials and comes in two different standard fibre packages. The slower package, with a 36Mbps download speed, will likely suit most small households that do not regularly stream from multiple devices. The faster option will be a better fit for larger households that need to occasionally download large files and connect multiple devices at once.

There is not an option for standard broadband, so if your home is not connected to the fibre network you will need to look for a different provider. However, applicants with no income can get an unlimited minutes calling plan with the slower package.

Eligible customers will need to be claiming Universal Credit, Income Support, Jobseeker’s Allowance, Pensions Credit, or Employment and Support Allowance. Keep in mind that BT will carry out a credit check and you may have to pay a refundable security deposit. Once the 12 months ends, you will need to prove your eligibility gain to get another 12-month deal.

Social tariff broadband deal Monthly cost Set up cost Average download speed Minimum contract length
Home Essentials (slower) £20 £11.99 36Mbps 12 months
Home Essentials (faster) £23 £11.99 67Mbps 12 months

Virgin Media broadband social tariff

Virgin Media offers two social tariff broadband deals to new and existing customers on Universal Credit. Essential Broadband is a basic package that, with a download speed of 15Mbps, is far slower than any of Virgin Media’s standard products. It will only suit households with low broadband usage, though the 30-day rolling contract could be very useful if you are unsure how long you will need your connection for. The Essential Broadband Plus deal is much faster at 54Mbps. While it does cost more than the basic package, the extra speed also comes with the option to add a Virgin Media Stream box for no extra monthly cost, though it does require a £20 set-up fee. This works like most other streaming sticks and boxes that you can use to stream

Keep in mind that Virgin Media is a cable broadband provider that uses its own cable network to connect homes to the internet. It does not have the same level of nationwide coverage as providers like Sky and BT, which use the Openreach network. You can use Virgin Media’s postcode checker to see if your home is eligible for its broadband deals.

These deals do not include any form of landline package, so you would need an additional subscription to use your home phone.

Social tariff broadband deal Monthly cost Set up cost Average download speed Minimum contract length
Essential Broadband £12.50 £0 15Mbps 30 days
Essential Broadband Plus £20 £0 (£20 54Mbps 30 days

Sky Broadband social tariff

The Sky social broadband tariff is called Sky Broadband Basics and is available in one package. It is limited to existing Sky customers who are struggling to pay their bill.

The download speed of 36Mbps for standard fibre-connected homes will be fast enough for most small households, but possibly too slow for homes with multiple users trying to stream content or download files simultaneously. If the fibre rollout has not yet reached your area, you can still get this package but your download speed will be limited to 11Mbps.

Customers with a landline phone will be able to use Sky’s ‘Pay As You Talk’ service, which charges you for each call using your home phone. However, you can get a 3GB/month sim deal for free with Sky Mobile once you have Sky Broadband Basics.

In order to qualify for Sky Broadband Basics, the Sky account holder will need to be claiming Universal Credit, Pension Credit, income-based Employment Support Allowance, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance or Income Support, and be named on the relevant monthly statement. You will also need to provide Sky with your National Insurance number when you sign up.

At the end of the 18-month term, your deal will revert to Sky’s standard rate for the deal, which is much higher than the social tariff. Make sure to take note of when the contract ends so that you can contact Sky to discuss a different package, or switch to a cheaper deal with a rival.

Social tariff broadband deal Monthly cost Set up cost Average download speed Minimum contract length
Sky Broadband Basics £20 £0 36Mbps 18 months

Other social tariff broadband deals

It is not only the big-name UK providers offering social tariff broadband and from the table below you can see that there are a few different options available.

Social tariff broadband deal Monthly cost Set up cost Average download speed Minimum contract length Eligibility
Vodafone Essentials £20 £9.99 38Mbps 12 months Claiming Jobseeker's Allowance, Universal Credit, Employment and Support Allowance, Disability Allowance, Pension Credit or Personal Independence Payments
Shell Energy Essentials Fast Broadband £15 £0 11Mbps 12 months Claiming Employment and Support Allowance,
Jobseeker's Allowance, Income Support, Pension Credit or Universal Credit
Shell Energy Essentials Superfast Fibre Broadband £20 £0 38Mbps 12 months Claiming Employment and Support Allowance,
Jobseeker's Allowance, Income Support, Pension Credit or Universal Credit
Community Fibre Essential (London only) £12.50 £14.95 35Mbps 12 months Community Fibre will not request proof of eligibility
G.Network Essential Fibre £15 £0 50Mbps 12 months Claiming Universal Credit, Income Support, Pension Credit (guarantee credit element), Income-related Jobseeker's Allowance or income-related Employment and Support Allowance
KCOM Full Fibre Flex (Hull and East Yorkshire only) £14.99 £0 30Mbps 30 days Claiming Income Support
Pension Credit (this does not include State Pension), Jobseekers Allowance, Housing Benefit, Personal Independence Payment, Attendance Allowance, Universal Credit, (with zero earnings) or Employment and Support AllowanceCare Home residents and Lifeline customers referred via Social Services and care leavers are also eligible
Hyperoptic (option 1) £15 £0 50Mbps 30 days Claiming Universal Credit, Income Support, Pension Credit, income-related Jobseeker's Allowance, Housing Benefit, Personal Independence Payment, Attendance Allowance, Care Leavers Support or income-related Employment and Support Allowance
Hyperoptic (option 2) £20 £0 150Mbps 30 days Claiming Universal Credit, Income Support, Pension Credit, income-related Jobseeker's Allowance, Housing Benefit, Personal Independence Payment, Attendance Allowance, Care Leavers Support or income-related Employment and Support Allowance
NOW Broadband Basics £20 £5 36Mbps 31 days Universal Credit, Pension Credit, Income-based Employment Support Allowance, Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance and Income Support

Not included in our table is the cheapest deal, offered by TalkTalk. This an entirely free, government-backed service that can only be applied for through a Jobcentre Plus work coach. It is targeted at jobseekers struggling to find work because of a lack of internet access, so eligibility is determined on a case-by-case basis. Successful applicants will get a voucher for six months of free 38Mbps broadband from TalkTalk.

Are social tariff broadband deals fast enough?

Social broadband is available at a range of different speeds, though most internet service providers do not offer high-end packages on a social tariff. Broadband download speeds can vary from around 10Mbps all the way up to 1,000Mbps. What ‘fast enough’ means to your household will depend on how you use the internet. If it is just for browsing or checking emails, you may only need a standard broadband deal. If you have multiple users streaming or downloading simultaneously, you may need a full fibre deal.

You can find out more about internet speeds by reading our article ‘What broadband speed do I need?’.

You may find that you are not just limited to what is offered in a social tariff broadband deal, but also what types of broadband are available in your area. Different connections require varying types of infrastructure, with modern setups – such as full fibre – providing homes with much faster download speeds. Read our article ‘Which broadband is best?’ to find out more.

Do you have to pay for social tariff broadband installation?

Some internet providers will charge for installation, set up or to post your equipment as part of your first monthly bill. Others offer free set up as standard, or reduce the cost for customers with social tariff broadband.

Providers using the Openreach network will not be charged by Openreach for broadband installation if the household is reliant on Universal Credit. However, there is no obligation for providers to pass these savings on to customers directly. Companies might instead use the savings to reduce monthly fees rather than waive upfront costs. Make sure you know how much you will be charged upfront before you sign up to a broadband deal.

How to sign up for social broadband tariffs

Signing up for a social tariff broadband deal requires a different process when compared to a standard broadband package and the process varies depending on the provider. Additionally, you will not find any social broadband deals on comparison sites, so you will need to visit a provider’s dedicated package or speak to the relevant customer services team directly by phone or email.

As part of the signing-up process, you will need to prove your eligibility. This may include sharing a copy of a benefits statement or giving the provider your National Insurance number. The named account holder will need to be the person who receives the relevant benefit, in order for this information to match up.

Other cheap broadband deals

Many broadband customers not on Universal Credit will be worried about their monthly bills too. If you think you are paying too much, but you cannot access social tariff broadband, there are still steps you can take. Customers who are out of contract can compare broadband deals and switch to a cheaper provider. It is usually a simple and easy process that can make a crucial difference to your monthly outgoings.

Consider using a comparison site so that you can compare deals from a number of broadband providers at once. The results can be tailored based on a number of personal preferences, including price, speed, reliability, Wi-Fi coverage and customer service.

If you are still under contract, changing providers can be more difficult. It may involve paying an early termination charge, which can undermine the benefits of switching to a cheaper deal.

If you are worried you cannot afford to pay your next broadband bill, speak to your provider. It may be able to put you on a different deal, give you extra time to pay or arrange a realistic payment plan to avoid you losing your connection entirely or having to pay additional fees.

Social broadband exit fees

Many broadband providers will let you switch to its social tariff broadband without paying an exit fee, though some will stick to its existing policy on charging customers to leave a contract. If you are switching to a different provider, you may need to pay an early termination fee if you are still in contract. Contact your internet supplier to find out how much it will cost you to cancel your service and switch to a different deal or new provider.

Will social broadband prices go up in 2024?

Most broadband providers increased standard prices in 2023. Even customers still in the initial term of their deals saw their bills to go up. However, some providers may exclude social broadband tariffs from the price hikes. For example, BT has not increased the price of either of its social tariffs as part of previous bill changes.

Contact your provider directly to find out if the cost of your deal will change during the contract.