As inflation rises and food prices continue to climb, many households across the UK have made the decision to go without broadband this year. 

According to a survey conducted by Citizens Advice, up to one million individuals have canceled their broadband subscriptions in the past year due to the high cost of living, attempting to save money, and as part of their debt consolidation. The charity suggests that these individuals could have benefited from cheaper social tariffs or special low-cost packages. However, watchdog Ofcom has issued a warning, stating that 4.3 million eligible people are missing out on these deals.

In response to the situation, the government has collaborated with Ofcom and the industry to introduce a variety of products to the market, aiming to encourage the uptake of social tariffs. These affordable options are available in 99% of the UK and start from as low as £10 per month, according to the government's statement.

To simplify the process for benefit claimants signing up for social tariffs, a broadband eligibility checker has been introduced, and major providers such as Sky and Virgin Media have already joined the initiative. 

Despite these efforts, Ofcom's findings reveal that the adoption of social tariffs remains very low, with only about 5% of eligible individuals taking advantage of them. However, this percentage has quadrupled since January of the previous year.

Citizens Advice conducted a survey of 6,000 people, which indicated that those receiving universal credit were six times more likely to have discontinued their broadband services in the past 12 months compared to non-claimants. Moreover, the charity expressed concern that the problem could worsen, as benefit claimants were four times more likely to fall behind on their broadband bills.

Ofcom reports that one in three households in the UK struggles to afford communication services, and they have called on companies to do more to promote social tariffs. Dame Clare Moriarty, the chief executive of Citizens Advice, stated the need for the watchdog to hold firms accountable and improve the uptake of these tariffs. She pointed out that people were being priced out of internet access at an alarming rate, and social tariffs should serve as the industry's safety net.

Other campaigners also highlight the fact that internet access has become an essential utility for day-to-day life. Those who cannot afford data face challenges in managing benefits, applying for jobs online, and benefiting from cheaper online prices, further exacerbating their financial difficulties.

The government claims that its job centre staff regularly guide claimants to relevant information on social tariffs, and individuals can access computers for their job searches at local job centres. Citizens Advice shared the story of Rob, a 63-year-old who has been unable to afford broadband since 2012. Rob explained that not having internet access at home significantly hampers his job applications and limits his access to services such as his GP, online help, and shopping.

The government highlights various measures it has taken to assist those who find broadband unaffordable. In June, after negotiations with the government, leaders from major broadband and mobile operators agreed to a set of public commitments aimed at supporting customers facing difficulties paying their bills. 

However, the Digital Poverty Alliance, echoing the concerns of Citizens Advice, notes that while the uptake of social tariffs is slowly improving, it still falls far short of the levels necessary to ensure digital inclusion for all households. The organisation argues that even with an affordable social tariff, households in severe poverty may still struggle to afford essential connectivity.