Internet connection is something that’s increasingly important to everyday life for many of us. But is home broadband affordable when you’re budgeting for a family on a low income?
Our guide to broadband for low-income families will help you find the cheapest family broadband deals and gives some useful tips to get onto the internet for free if you can’t stretch to a home broadband package at the moment.
Many families on a low income consider internet connection essential and choose to juggle their budget to find a way to pay for it. Research shows that in 2019, 93% of all households in Great Britain had access to the internet, almost all of them (98%) via a fixed broadband connection*. The vast majority of adults (87%) said they used the internet daily.
Many of these people will be on low incomes, and the good news is that there are many different broadband deals around that help make broadband more affordable.
When you’re looking for broadband for low-income families, a good place to start is by checking out the deals available in your area through a comparison site such as this one. By putting in your postcode, you’ll be able to see which broadband providers serve your area and the monthly cost of different types of packages. It will show you what’s available and how much you’d have to pay for broadband-only connection, broadband with phone and broadband with TV.
If you’re on low-income government benefits and can't find a broadband deal you can afford, check out whether you’re eligible for BT Basic + Broadband. This is a low-cost option that offers a limited amount of downloads (usage) per month.
You’ll be told via email when you’re reaching your limit but if you go over it you will be charged extra, so make sure take time to understand whether this option really would be more cost-effective for your household. Most regular broadband deals offer unlimited downloads.
Having access to the internet can certainly help your budget go further. For example, shopping around online for all kinds of goods and services (starting with your broadband deal!) means you can compare different sellers and find the lowest price for the items you want. Lots of people also find that shopping online helps them avoid the temptation to spend more while browsing in shops.
You can use the internet to search for job opportunities and money-saving hacks as well as to keep in touch with family and friends and stay entertained without having to spend money going out.
Once you’ve checked out what deals are available in your postcode area, it’s time to figure out which of the deals within your budget would best suit your household. You don’t want to pay for more than you need, but equally it’s worth checking out whether a broadband deal at the higher end of your budget would serve the needs of your whole family better.
Our guide to choosing broadband will help you decide what features you need.
Here are some questions frequently asked by people comparing broadband for low-income families:
You’ll generally be asked to sign a contract for 12, 18 or 24 months. Not all providers offer 12-month contracts so if you’d prefer not to commit for longer than a year, check out whether our 12-month broadband deals are right for you.
Signing up for 18 or 24 months can sometimes be more cost effective, but remember you may be charged if you want to get out of your contract early. Alternatively, one-month or ‘no-contract’ broadband means you’re not tied in, but again, these deals can come with a higher price tag and set-up fee.
Whatever the length of your contract, it pays to shop around when you’re coming to the end of it, to see if you can get a better deal. Broadband providers must notify their customers when their contract is coming to an end, under rules that industry regulator Ofcom put in place from February 2020. Ofcom discovered that many people were paying more than they needed to once they were out of contract, so make sure you take action – it could save you money.
When you’ve put your postcode into our deals comparison site, you’ll see that each deal on offer shows an average speed, along with the monthly cost. Broadband speed is measured in megabits per second (Mbps). The higher the number, the faster the speed, and, generally, the more it will cost.
Consider what you use the internet for and how many people in your household will be using it at once. Do several of you want to stream TV, music or films, play games online or regularly catch up with friends and family via video calls? If so, you’d be better served with a higher-speed broadband service of more than 30Mbps.
If you mainly use the internet for emails, checking social media and looking at YouTube clips now and again, a lower-speed service of 10 to 11Mbps, which usually costs less, will suit you fine. Remember the advertised speeds are averages so the speed you actually get might be higher or lower.
To help you decide on the broadband speed that would best suit your household, take a look at this Uswitch guide to broadband download times. Obviously, you may have to compromise, depending on your budget. We’ll give you some ideas on where you can get free internet access later in this guide.
Many broadband providers also offer deals that include phone calls and/or TV services.
Just as with broadband speed, it’s important to know what you’ll use, so you don’t end up paying for more than you need. For example, will you use a landline phone connection to make and receive calls? Although you need a phone line to get broadband from most providers, you don’t have to have calls included. If everyone in your household already has access to a mobile phone with call time, then you could save money by not including calls in your broadband package.
Do you already have all the TV channels you need via Freeview or are you keen for more? Most broadband providers who offer TV have different packages with basic and premium channels so again, shop around for a deal that gives you what you need and no more.
If you have young children or teenagers in the household, parental controls are a useful way of helping to ensure they stay safe online. Providers don’t usually charge extra for parental controls, but they don’t all offer them, so if this is important to you then check what you’re getting before you make your final choice.
Security packages aren’t always included but are another important way of safeguarding your family online. Check what is offered in any deal you’re looking at.
If you’re worried about your credit rating, the good news is that credit checks aren’t as strict for broadband as for some other services. Some broadband providers even offer contracts that don’t require a credit check at all.
Our guide to no credit check broadband will help you find out more.
If you can’t afford home broadband at the moment, there are still ways you can get online.
Your local library is a great place to go for free internet access. It will usually have computers available with internet access for members of the public to use for free. Many also offer free Wi-Fi if you take along your own devices such as a mobile phone or laptop.
If anyone in your family is a student, then they’ll usually have access to computers and the internet while they’re at school or college. Many are open for students to do homework or assignments outside their regular hours.
You’ll also find free Wi-Fi hotspots in lots of restaurants, coffee shops, shopping centres and other areas within many town and city centres.
For more information about Wi-Fi hotspots, check out our simple guide to Wi-Fi hotspots.
Using the free Wi-Fi hotspots you’ll find when you’re out and about means you can avoid using so much of your mobile phone data, which might mean you can save money by opting for a mobile phone package with less data.
If you and members of your family have mobile phones with data included, make sure you’re using your full allowance. Using your mobile (4G) data at home can reduce the impact on your home broadband when everyone wants to get on the internet at once.
You can even link your mobile to a laptop, computer or tablet to create a personal Wi-Fi hotspot for these devices, meaning you don’t need to use home broadband.
Take care not to exceed your data allowance on your mobile phone, though, to avoid any nasty surprises on your bill.