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After publishing research showing how social tariffs and other vulnerable customer support functions can play a critical role in addressing digital poverty, UK full-fibre internet service provider Hyperoptic has launched a new scheme to help customers cope with increasing cost-of-living pressures.
Hyperoptic’s research, commissioned in partnership with the Housing Association Charitable Trust, mirrors recent findings from the Citizens Advice Bureau indicating that millions of families across the UK are facing financial crisis this year as inflation hits a 40-year high of around 10%.
The issue has been around for a while in the UK and in February 2022, communications regulator Ofcom called for operators to close the digital divide and help customers on benefits cope with rising bills. In a report on the affordability of broadband services in the UK, Ofcom said that about 1.1 million households (5%) were struggling to afford their home broadband service, a figure rising to about one in 10 among the lowest-income households.
To that end, Hyperoptic’s Fair Fibre Framework sets out a series of measures to support customers, beginning with a commitment to act with compassion and commit to treating all customers with dignity, with tailored and flexible options aligned to their individual broadband needs. If a customer’s circumstances mean they need support, Hyperoptic asks that they let the company know. It said it would tailor support to individual needs, from creating payment plans, to moving vulnerable customers to lower price packages.
Hyperoptic’s social tariffs are available on both 50Mb and 150Mb speeds, on rolling monthly contracts, with no need for credit checks. Also, it said it does not limit eligibility to customers on Universal Credit, as its criterion includes customers in receipt of pension credits, income-related Jobseeker’s Allowance, housing benefits and Personal Independence Payments.
Hyperoptic said it is proactively driving uptake of social tariffs by investing in initiatives to drive awareness. These range from advertising tariffs prominently on the company’s website, to working with partners and local authorities to identify people most likely to be eligible for support.
The company has signed up to Ofcom’s automatic compensation regime and for those owed compensation, it assured that customers will be credited automatically and will not need to chase payment.
Hyperoptic will continue to offer its Affordable Product Scheme to social housing clients, funding free connections for 12 months to 10% of the housing stock. The company said this enables it to go beyond social tariffs to reach those who might not be online at all.
Looking at the concept of community connections, Hyperoptic said that as it grew its network, it would continue to connect community hubs for free, enabling people to access a free gigabit-enabled broadband service locally. So far, Hyperoptic has provided free connectivity to more than 400 community centres across the UK.
Hyperoptic said its contracts do not contain above-inflation mid-contract price rises and the price of a contract is always the price customers pay during their commitment period.
“Households are facing a sharp increase in the cost of living, and every sector has a duty of care to protect and support customers through these difficult times,” said James Fredrickson, director of policy and regulatory affairs at Hyperoptic. “The broadband sector is no different and we are proud to be committing to measures to help support our customers who might be struggling with increased financial pressures.
“As part of these commitments, we are also reiterating our request to Ofcom to investigate the use of inflation-busting mid-contract price rises within our industry. At a time of high inflation, allowing the use of these clauses is hitting already-squeezed households with another price hike that many are unaware of signing up to.”