Virgin Media and O2 give free mobile data to low income families – how to get help with internet bills

HARD-UP families can get free mobile data through a new scheme to help more Brits get connected.

Virgin Media and O2 have launched a National Databank with 319million hours of internet use to be donated to more than 200,000 people.

More than 7million people in the UK are unable to access mobile data or broadband at home, meaning they could struggle to study or apply for jobs.

The free mobile internet access will be available as data vouchers or SIM cards, and will be distributed by 5,000 community groups across the UK.

It will be trialled at 10 community organisations in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Pilots have already been launched in Northumberland, Birmingham, Inverness, Liverpool, Stockport, Hounslow, North Shields, Belfast and Llanelli – with a final centre yet to be confirmed.

These are the centres that are currently offering free mobile data:

  • Being Woman – Ashington (Northumberland)
  • Smartlyte Limited – Birmingham
  • The Libertie Project – Inverness
  • Kensington Community Learning Centre – Liverpool
  • Starting Point Community Learning Partnership – Stockport
  • ACDA Skills Training – Hounslow
  • Age Concern Tyneside South – North Shields
  • TrainingMatchmaker.com – Belfast
  • CETMA – Llanelli, Wales

The trial is only available to existing service users and staff will contact those who are eligible.

Free data will then be rolled out nationwide from November through community organisations partnered with digital inclusion charity Good Things Foundation.

Following the pilot, you can apply directly to your local Good Things Foundation centre.

The databank will be open for other mobile and broadband providers to donate internet hours to those in need.

Helen Milner OBE, chief executive, of the Good Things Foundation, said: “Having sufficient data in our increasingly digital society is not a nice to have, it’s an absolute essential.

"If you’re not online you can’t save money on products and services, help your children to participate in home-learning, and apply for jobs."

What other help is available?

Vodafone launched a similar scheme to tackle data poverty this summer.

Around 1million families are expected to benefit from the Buy One Give One scheme.

The Vodafone SIM cards come with 20GB of data, unlimited texts and calls a month – plus training on how to use them. 

The Trussell Trust, which provides emergency food to poor families, will use its 1,300 food bank centres to hand out the SIMs. 

If you're struggling to pay your internet bills you could also switch to a package for customers on Universal Credit or other benefits.

Several firms provide special discounted rates for low income families.

BT offers a basic phone and broadband package for households that claim certain benefits.

Virgin Media also offers a cheaper deal for people on Universal Credit.

Other cheaper options include Hyperoptic’s Fair Fibre plan, which offers benefits claimants money off broadband packages, and customers in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire could get a good deal with KCOM.

You could also contact your supplier to see if they can help manage your bill payments.

NHS staff might be able to get extra help, such as more data, calls or texts on their mobile phone and upgrading your broadband if they work from home. 

Contact your internet provider to see if they do any deals for NHS workers.

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