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Broadband for low income families

Written by Max Beckett, Broadband Expert

2 June 2020

Every modern household needs broadband, but this everyday essential isn’t always cheap. If you’re operating on a tight budget, finding the best broadband deal can be the difference between great value for money and paying over the odds.

Woman using broadband

Do providers have cheap broadband for low income families?

No, most providers won’t have special plans for customers on a particularly small budget, however there is one notable exception from BT. Their Basic plan is designed to be extremely cheap, but overall performance certainly reflects this:

BT cheap broadband

BT reserves a special ‘Basic Tariff + Broadband’ for customers on income support priced at £10.07 a month (at the time of writing). You’ll get:

  • ADSL broadband at an average speed of 10Mbps

  • £1.50 worth of call time which you can use for international calls too

  • Free weekend calls to 0845 and 0870 numbers

  • £10 price cap on extra calls, so long as your usage is within reason

  • 15GB of data allowance (the equivalent of 30 minutes of browsing a day)

Is BT Basic Tariff worth it?

This depends on your use and internet habits, but potentially it may not be the best fit for you. Consider that you can get unlimited broadband for around £18 a month including anytime calls – that means you can browse, download and call as much as you want for the same set price a month. If you were to opt for BT’s £10.60 plan and then rack up another £10 of calls, the better value option becomes clear.

If, however, you aren’t likely to use calls and are happy with your £1.50 allowance, and also don’t plan to use the internet frequently, then BT Basic is absolutely the cheapest deal for home broadband you’ll find.

Is there free broadband internet for low income families?

Unfortunately not, there is no such thing as free broadband – the exception being public Wi-Fi hotspots if you’re willing to head into town to get online.

If you already pay for a phone plan that includes mobile broadband or data, while this isn’t exactly free, you can use your mobile as a hotspot and connect other devices that way. If you only want to get online to cover the bare minimum of tasks like emails, then this might be a great option instead of signing up to home broadband. But be mindful of the slow speeds this will have.

Can I sign up for regular broadband plans?

Absolutely. There is nothing to stop you from signing up to a regular broadband plan so long as it fits safely within your budget. You’ll need to pay close attention to what you are paying for though, as you want to make sure you’re getting the best possible deal.

This means you should know what type of broadband you want, what speeds you need, and to keep a sharp eye on all those sneaky extras. You also shouldn’t be afraid to haggle with broadband providers a bit. 

What type of broadband do I need?

Broadband comes in three main types:

Standard broadband/ADSL – the cheapest

ADSL broadband is the slowest home broadband available because it uses older copper cable technology. These are the same cables used to provide the phone line to your home, so you must have a phone line to be able to access ADSL broadband.

As most homes in the UK do have access to a landline, that means you’ll almost certainly be able to get ADSL, even if you aren’t able to get fibre broadband. Standard broadband won’t give you the speeds or performance of fibre, but it will be more than ample for small households of casual users.

Fibre-optic broadband (FTTC) – the midrange

Fibre broadband in its standard form is known as Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC). Most providers won’t use the term FTTC, though, they will simply use the term ‘Fibre’ and the term ‘Full Fibre’ for FTTP (more on that below).

Fibre-optic uses modern fibre cables to connect your home – data loses less speed as it travels through fibre cables from the exchange to your street cabinet, so you can expect better speeds overall. From the cabinet to your home, the connection uses copper cables, and this is why you still need a working phone line to use fibre optic broadband (and why it’s slower than fibre that goes straight to your premises).

It’s available to a hefty 96% of the UK, which means its prices are very competitive and nowadays even comparable to out-of-contract ADSL prices.

Full Fibre (FTTP) – the priciest

FTTP stands for Fibre to the Premises, as modern fibre-optic cables are used for the entire journey, meaning this is the fastest possible broadband you can get. As there are no copper wires involved, you also don’t need a phone line.

For homes on a tight budget, you should quickly rule out full fibre as a cost-effective option. The main exception being if you have moved into a new home where a full fibre supplier like Hyperoptic is already installed and just waiting to be activated. Prices on Hyperoptic’s lower speed packages (which still boast an impressive 50Mbps) are comparable to other fibre-optic providers. 

Which providers offer full fibre?

BT is developing its full fibre offerings but currently Virgin Media, while not technically FTTP, is the widest available supplier broadband with dedicated cabling going straight to your home. Virgin has its own exclusive cable network, and as a result has some of fastest speeds in the UK, though unsurprisingly this means it is among the most expensive options.

What type of broadband is cheapest?

The cheapest type of broadband is standard broadband or ADSL, which usually clocks in at 11Mbps. That’s a perfectly good amount for small households of casual users, like a couple who only use the internet to check email, stream on YouTube and browse social media, but not much Netflix without reaching capacity. If you just want to be able to get online for the crucial things like studying, online banking and emails, ADSL can be a great way to enjoy cheap broadband.

Should I get fibre broadband?

You will notice during your broadband comparison search that providers will offer different levels of speed. ADSL will always be around the 11Mbps mark, but fibre broadband is offered in different tiers, usually within the speeds of these following three ranks:

17 – 25Mbps 

The lowest level offered by providers, generally the first level should at least surpass 20Mbps. These prices are usually only a few pounds more expensive per month compared to ADSL so if you think you can make your budget stretch another £6 or so then this might be an ideal option to tap into better speeds. Not all providers may even offer fibre optic speeds in this band. 

36 – 45Mbps

These speeds should be sufficient for most households, and even those with one or two streamers and gamers, so long as you aren’t expecting all users to be able to run multiple devices at the same time.

For couples and young families it’s ideal — it’s able to support laptops and games consoles as well as smartphones. These speeds shouldn’t be too much more expensive than the lower speed band, again, something in the range of £3-6 more per month.

65Mbps+

65-70Mbps is as fast as you can hope for without full fibre or Virgin Media options, and that is when things start getting expensive. Anything above 65Mbps should be considered a luxury anyway – there is nothing functional that you cannot achieve on a 65Mbps connection.

Higher speeds simply accommodate more users, more devices and heavier tasks like 4K streaming and video uploading, though these can also be done on slower connections if you’re prepared to meet with some buffering.

The top speeds of around 65Mbps will set you back around £30-40 a month, though if you start looking at ultrafast speeds nearer the 100Mbps mark, you can look to shell out something like £50. 

Is it worth paying more for speed?

For most households, ultrafast speeds probably aren’t very cost-effective – it’s one thing to know you have speed on your side, but it’s another to actually have internet habits that justify it. For example, some providers claim their ultrafast speeds can support over a dozen devices, if you only own six, you might be paying for something you won’t use.

Bear in mind that you can also alternate devices if you really need to get a task done. For example, if you want to stream a film with the family, it might make sense to shut off any mobile devices, PCs or games consoles (if they consent to it) so you aren’t slowing down the connection your TV needs.

While having broadband that doesn’t require you to ‘ration’ your use like this is a great convenience, it's often one you’ll see reflected in monthly bills. 

The best broadband internet for low income families

We would suggest that for homes where the budget really is tight that the lowest tier of fibre-optic – so long as your home is able to get it – is a good pick. You want to look for speeds of around 25-30Mbps at a cost of around £23-25 per month.

You can get ADSL broadband for anything between £17-23 a month, but considering the difference in speeds, the minimal difference in costs will permit you to do much more with your broadband. Use an online postcode checker to see if you are able to get fibre optic broadband. If you can’t, ADSL is the best alternative price-wise. 

Cheap broadband – things to look out for

If price is very much the object of your search then there are other little costs or handy deals that you should keep an eye out for:

Seasonal broadband sales

Start your broadband research early so you can hold out for broadband deals that happen every few months. This might include waiving activation fees or a hefty discount on monthly bills.

Broadband bundles

Don’t be tempted by bundles that add TV and call plans onto your final monthly bill. Premium TV is nice but it is never an essential and call plans, while useful at times, might end up being costly compared to just making the call on your mobile plan if you have minutes to use up.

Fixed price broadband

Never assume your broadband deal is fixed price until you have seen it in writing – if it’s not, this means your monthly bill could suddenly change even one month into a 12-month contract and that could spell disaster for your budget.

Contract lengths

Fixed price broadband is cheaper because it locks you in for a year or two. If you know you’re not going anywhere in the next 12 months, then absolutely take this route – the difference in price between a fixed and rolling contract is significant.

That said, if you can’t guarantee you’ll be in the same home in six month’s time, don’t sign up for a long contract, you most likely won’t be able to end your broadband contract early for free and fees for doing so can be very pricey.

Limited or unlimited broadband

If you’re a busy household, you will want to go for unlimited broadband. For the most part, providers rarely offer limited broadband anymore, but it's always wise to double-check. If you were to go over your data allowance, the extra fees can quickly add up.

Postage and packaging

All providers will provide a free router to new customers, but some will require you to pay the postage and packaging, and they may not be all that clear about it. Always read the small print as P&P can easily cost you another £10.

Credit checks

If you have poor credit then it might make sense to stick to no credit check broadband providers. This will save you the heartache of being told ‘no’ when your home desperately needs to get online.

If you’re not sure what your credit status is and suspect it isn’t at its best, you should definitely run a credit check yourself using a site like Experian – if you leave it up to your provider, you may end up with a black mark against your score that you could have easily avoided. 

No upfront cost broadband

It’s not much, but sometimes a month to get a few extra pounds together can make a real difference. Search for providers that offer no upfront cost broadband so you can get the ball rolling without immediately having to part with any cash.