Virgin Media has today announced a new essential broadband service targeted specifically at customers facing financial difficulty and uncertainty in these challenging times.

The broadband-only plan, called “Virgin Media Essential Broadband”, will be available to those receiving Universal Credit and will come with a speed of 15 Mbps and a fixed price of £15 per month, with no fixed-term contract length and no price changes while benefit payments are being received. The service will launch in the Autumn.

Available initially for existing Virgin Media customers, they will be able to take the new service by simply filling out an online form and providing proof of their Universal Credit status.

The introduction of this new product is the latest initiative from Virgin Media following previous proactive steps designed to help and support vulnerable customers.

Continued support for vulnerable customers

Last year Virgin Media was the first provider to announce measures that help overcome some of the obstacles that vulnerable customers can face in the marketplace. This included introducing annual package reviews, more flexible bill management through a specialist team and bespoke engineer visits. In 2016, the provider introduced its Talk Protected phone-only plan.

This gave those customers over the age of 65 or those with additional accessibility needs a fixed-price home phone plan, with inclusive evening and weekend calls to UK landlines and mobiles alongside other benefits.

Virgin Media has also taken action during the Covid crisis to give customers the connectivity, data, entertainment and flexibility needed. This included providing 10GB of mobile data at no extra cost; introducing more kids and entertainment programming; removing data caps on any broadband plans that still had them, and giving customers more flexibility over their services such as the ability to temporarily pause sports subscriptions when live events were suspended.

Jeff Dodds, Chief Operating Officer at Virgin Media, said: “We know that these are tough times and that there are many people finding it more difficult to make ends meet and facing financial uncertainty. At the same time, the role of broadband in helping people to stay connected has never been clearer. Whether it’s keeping in touch with friends and family, finding advice and support or searching for jobs and working remotely – broadband underpins it all.

“With this all in mind, we wanted to make sure that those customers receiving benefit payments were able to access reliable, hassle-free connectivity with enough speed to carry out essential online activities.

“Building on the industry-leading initiatives we’ve already launched for vulnerable customers, we’ll continue to work tirelessly to keep the country connected and support our customers in whatever way we can.”

Matt Warman, Minister for Digital Infrastructure, said: “Having affordable access to the internet can improve people’s quality of life, connecting them with friends and family and giving them a tool to build a brighter future. That is why the government brokered major deals with broadband companies to support those struggling to pay bills right now.

“I want to see continued efforts to protect consumers beyond the pandemic and welcome Virgin Media offering a permanent package giving vulnerable and low-income families the flexibility to continue to benefit from reliable connectivity.”

Universal credit recipients rose during lockdown

The latest official figures show that there were 5.6 million people on Universal Credit at 9 July 2020 – which is an increase of 2% from June 2020. Of those, 42% of claimants were in the ‘searching for work’ conditionality group, an increase of 6% from March 2020.

The economic pressures of lockdown did see an increase in claimants with 2.4 million starts to Universal Credit between 13 March and 14 May 2020, with young people making up a greater proportion of starts compared to pre-lockdown. However, benefit claims made have reduced to 240,000 in the 4 weeks to 9 July 2020.

Virgin Media’s network passes 15.1 million premises which is more than half of the UK.