Being there for vulnerable customers is our priority – as it should be for all telcos


Blog – by Tania Caporaso, Director of BT Customer Care

This week, Ofcom called on telecoms companies to do more to help customers struggling to afford broadband and phone service, noting that BT had already launched Home Essentials, our low-cost fibre package available to all customers on Universal Credit that will provide a potential 4.6m families across the UK with half-price fibre broadband and calls.

Me and my team have seen first-hand the impact the past year has had on our customers and the increasing importance of connectivity. It has been a lifeline for so many after the world changed for us all in March 2020. The pandemic has left many in a more vulnerable position, isolated or unable to access vital services. Some customers might also have faced difficulty in paying their bills for the first time.

Part of our response, driven by our purpose of connecting for good, was to launch BT Home Essentials in June this year.

Our low cost-price social tariff provides affordable, high-speed fibre broadband for around half the usual price for customers on Universal Credit and other means-tested benefits. Less than a month after the launch, uptake has been huge and feedback has been overwhelmingly positive from customers.

One example: the office of one MP wrote to us about a constituent previously without landline, internet or mobile access for whom connectivity will not only provide a link to the outside world, but means the professionals trying to assist him and make a positive change can now get in touch and pave the path to bring him out from his desperate loneliness and isolation.

In its affordability report, Ofcom called for telecoms firms to go further. To not only make essential connectivity more affordable, but to promote and raise awareness of the support measures they provide to all customers. At BT, we know Home Essentials is only the start of addressing the challenges faced by so many because of the pandemic, and that giving people the confidence to come forward and ask for help is also crucial.

We know from the research that more than half of respondents are uncomfortable sharing their problems because of embarrassment, fear or wanting to tackle the issue on their own, particularly when it comes to their finances. To help break down those barriers we have launched Here For You – a campaign to raise awareness of the all the support we provide customers who need more help – and we encourage similar approaches across the industry.

A third of the people we spoke to admitted feeling more financially vulnerable since the pandemic started – and sadly the awareness of the help we provide is very low. Close to 7 in 10 (67%) feel that businesses could do more to offer useful support for their vulnerable customers, something we are meeting head on with our Here for You campaign.

What has become abundantly clear during the pandemic is the importance of our Protected Service scheme for those at risk if their phone was cut off because they didn’t pay their bill. This could happen in the case of an illness and being taken to hospital, meaning they are not around to manage things. Adding a second point of contact on their account ensures that there is someone else to help look after things while you are away.

We can work with customers to make sure people’s essential phone lines are still working for when they get back. Through the Here for You portal, we outline options like Protected Services scheme and Power of Attorney, and how to go about nominating a third party to make decisions on your behalf. As part of Here for You campaign we have also created a dedicated section on the BT website that brings together our wide range of services and resources for those who need extra support, and we have been working on a series of videos highlighting these key areas.

We always aim to provide the most personal and local service through more than 600 stores up and down the UK, and 31 contact centres. Now we are going even further in our commitment. Recognising that not everyone who calls our contact centres or visits our stores reveals their struggles, we are providing our 12,000 customer service colleagues with extra training, to better identify those who require assistance to help them stay connected.

Doing all we can as an industry to help those who need it most in an extraordinary time should be a priority for every telco. I’m proud to say it is for BT.

For more information visit www.bt.com/help/here-for-you.