Social care / low income mobile tariffs

For a very long time, since before it was BT, there have been special BT tariffs for low income customers. It used to be a "light user scheme", which fell foul of competition from the likes of Mercury for a bit, but has changed over the years.

The principle is that the majority land line provider, BT, has to offer a social care special tariff for people on low income to ensure they can afford a means of communications. It is now called "BT Basic" and "Basic aims to keep phones ringing in the most vulnerable households by charging as little as possible: £5.10 a month." which is not bad.

Indeed, that should perhaps be good enough, but so often these days an actual landline is not what people want, need, or use. Indeed, even £5 a month is a lot more than you need to spend if you go for some really simple "pay as you go" SIM card on a cheap mobile - and remember, non-smart phones can be purchased SIM free for like £9!

So the real question is should mobile operators be required to provide a special low income tariff. I expect they would want to only have to offer to those on benefits.

What would such a package need to offer?

This is just my musings from what I know of how it works...

Many of these things are covered by PAYG packages. What would make sense is a consistent package, basically the same on all of the major networks, with the same costs, so people can make sure they get the right package if they are on benefits and just need to stay in touch.

Obviously it has to be SIM only - the packages that include the "latest phone every 6 months" can only do so by charging enough on an ongoing basis. Cheap SIM free phones are readily available, so this is not a problem for someone on low income that needs to stay in touch. No, it does not get them a nice "smart-phone", but they do cost money, sorry.

In general mobile phone companies can still make some profit on incoming calls, it is not ideal these days, but basically there is a good argument that keeping a SIM live on the network is almost no cost, and even the occasional incoming call can cover that cost. So it makes a lot of sense if such a package has no ongoing rental. That way someone can stay in touch if they have no income and people call them. Some PAYG packages work like that. The same applies to incoming SMS. If you have no money at all and cannot afford to make any calls apart from 080 numbers, people can still call you back.

Freephone calls from mobile are now set up to ensure the mobile operator gets some reverse payment for the call, and so such a service could offer freephone calls (080 at least, even if not 00800) for no charge. The recipient pays.

Mobile data is a tricky one - I image that is not "needed" for a social care package, but maybe that is changing and actually it is becoming more important. It makes a lot of sense if this is pre-pay and charged but at some sensible rate. The whole "data" and "access to the Internet" debate is somewhat separate.

I guess outgoing calls make sense to charge on a simple pre-pay, pay as you go basis, but something the operator can manage like 1p/minute to normal numbers and something sensible for actual SMS. I suspect that this is close to cost price for a lot of operators, but this is a social "low income" package here.

Special numbers - a good gesture would be to allow 030 numbers to be free, or a certain number of minutes per month free. This is tricky as they will cost the mobile operator, but they are unlikely to be abused as they are numbers only for government and registered charities. It would make sense for the universal credit helpline to move to an 0300 number for this. I am puzzled as to why they are on an 03 and not an 030 number now!

International calls - a fair price on a pre-pay basis may make sense.

I would be in favour of such a tariff not allowing any sort of premium rate calls or texts at all. They can be a trap for those on low income, especially gambling...

So what do you think?

Should the big mobile operators be obliged to offer such a tariff to people on benefits?

(Yes, as I say, some PAYG tariffs are damn close, but should there be a defined tariff and all operators offering it?)


  1. (Long time reader, first time comment-er) With regard to a basic/cheap/low income mobile tariff, I think those already exist, they're just what the market seems to have available. Three for example have a 200min/unlimited-text/500MB PCM plan for £5 per month. I think this is quite reasonable really. Sure it's a 12month contract but it doesn't change price after the 12 months, it retains that plan monthly unless you change it. I'm currently on the £9 one (4GB/unlimited-calls/unlimited-txt) and have been for a couple of years.

    I feel that the real issue is the limitations of only having a mobile phone, the main one being that you can't call utilities (AAISP clearly isn't one of these) from a mobile with your inclusive mins.

    I personally despise the idea that a large company can have a phone number for support when you need them the most that allows them to be able to charge outside of the inclusive minutes of a mobile phone contract.

    On my landline at least once a year I've doubled my monthly bill phone bill in order to deal with some fsckup with a utility company

  2. What about Internet Service Providers? The government is moving more and more services onto the web. Should ISPs be obliged to offer an "at cost price" service for people on benefits?

    How about gas and electricity companies? Royal Mail? (special stamps?) Supermarkets? (cost price food?)

    Or benefits could just be made to be sufficient to cover normal living costs.

    I know which I prefer!

  3. It's about time people embraced 'federated' VoIP as an alternative.

    Obviously it doesn't help those with no internet or data access at all (although my local library offers an hour of free internet access for card holders), but it *should* be relatively straightforward for local and national governments to provide a WebRTC 'portal' to contact various departments free of charge.

    I noticed A&A are contactable via SIP. Nice touch.

  4. I'm a CAB advisor, and former O2 Tech support (broadband and Mobile), so I', interested to hear your thoughts on this one Rev.

    I think the good part of what the market has established with Mobile Telecomms is that incoming calls are free, and keeping an active sim for incoming calls can be done for a £5 or less a month through PAYG, or even Simo, so there's no desperate need for a new plan I think.

    The problem I think as you've identified is outbound calling. Today May's backdown has seen the Universal Credit helpline moved to 03, and all the benefit lines - hell all government service lines should be too.

    However, I don't think you can separate off data as being some sideline. The new range of benefits are supposed to be applied for primarily online - they'll only let you apply on the phone if you have some sort of physical impairment from doing so - so having online access is vital, especially as the government is closing job centres and councils are closing libraries.

    At the very least, you'd have to zero rate gov.uk sites, and you'd probably want to ensure the Citizens Advice website, and similar advice websites are also zero rated... But if the goal is to get people out of the situation, then really they need full access so they can apply for jobs.

    1. I am a tad confused as I understood it was on an 03 number and they are trying to move it to an 080. What number was it on do you think?

    2. DWP changed their helplines for existing claimants from 0845 numbers to 0345 numbers on 17 March 2014. In late 2017, they are moving them to 0800 numbers. This ensures that no-one has to pay when they make a call.

      Since 2010, DWP has used 0800 numbers for new benefit claims - except for UC. All new UC claims must be made online. DWP also had a "special arrangement" with the major mobile phone providers to make these calls free of charge from mobile phones. Since 1 July 2015, all 0800 and 0808 numbers have been free-t-caller on landlines and on mobiles.

  5. > Obviously it has to be SIM free

    Sorry to be a pedant, but I think you mean SIM Only... ;)

  6. I would be interested to see how much this tarrif is actually used these days on landlines, especially with broadband etc. I am visually impaired and pretty much all of the people I know on benefits (and that is over 50) use iPhones with a contract and data allowance. That may have something to do with the fact that iPhones have speech feedback and all the non smartphones don't, but even then would this tarrif really be used by anyone other than the older generations?

  7. I think there is a general problem in that services for the affluent are generally better served and more likely to be internet enabled. Poor are forced to use the lowest common denominator service like a call centre, Hours of waiting on the line to get an answer to a simple question that could be answered with a bit of googling.

  8. "Freephone calls from mobile are now set up to ensure the mobile operator gets some reverse payment for the call, and so such a service could offer freephone calls (080 at least, even if not 00800) for no charge. The recipient pays."

    Given Ofcom's reforms effective 1 July 2015, calls to 080 numbers must (not "could") be free-to-caller.

  9. "Mobile data is a tricky one - I image that is not "needed" for a social care package".

    As more and more public services - and especially benefits claims - move online (likewise, banking and billing for gas, electricity and phone), mobile data must be seen as essential.

  10. "It would make sense for the universal credit helpline to move to an 0300 number for this. I am puzzled as to why they are on an 03 and not an 030 number now!"

    DWP used 0345 numbers as they had migrated from the exactly matching 0845 numbers on 17 March 2014. Since 2007 all users of premium rate 084 and 087 numbers have had the option to move to the exactly matching 034 or 037 number. Calls to 034 and 037 numbers cost exactly the same as calls to 030 numbers and the same as calls to 01, 02 and 033 numbers.

    As of 30 November 2017, DWP has started moving their benefit helplines to 0800 numbers. The first was the Universal Credit Helpline. Others will follow by the end of 2017. Calls to 0800 and 0808 numbers are free-to-caller on landlines and on mobiles.

    Since some time in 2010, DWP had already been using 0800 numbers for all new claims for benefits as these could be long calls. However, there was no 0800 number for new claims for Universal Credit as all new UC claims must be made online.

    Every benefit, including UC, had/has an 0345 helpline number for existing claims. Those are now all changing to 0800 numbers.

  11. "you'd probably want to ensure the Citizens Advice website, and similar advice websites are also zero rated"

    It's a simple matter for calls to Citizen's Advice to be zero-rated. They just need to change to an 0800 number!

    The fact is, for many years Citizen's Advice used premium rate 0844 and 0845 numbers. They very reluctantly moved to 03 numbers only after much external pressure, for example: (2014) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2597569/Hard-people-calling-government-backed-helpline-debt-advice-charged-41P-A-MINUTE-calls.html and (2016) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3730428/Citizens-Advice-62p-minute-phone-rip-Charity-cashing-desperate-callers-despite-claiming-offer-advice-free.html


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