Digital Communities

Greater Manchester leaders call on Government, telecoms chiefs for more support to vulnerable

Greater Manchester leaders call on Government, telecoms chiefs for more support to vulnerable customers

  • Mayor of Greater Manchester and Digital City-Region lead call to cap phone charges for over-75s across all providers and assistance for low-income households
  • Leaders welcome measures put in place so far but call on Government and telecoms chiefs to go further
  • Calls include standardisation across the industry

Greater Manchester senior leaders have written directly to the Government and telecoms industry chiefs call for further action to support vulnerable customers and help tackle social isolation and feelings of loneliness during the coronavirus outbreak.

Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, recently called on the telecommunications industry to cap the bills of older and vulnerable landline telephone customers, prompted by a conversation with 82 year-old Mary on his weekly BBC Radio Manchester Hot Seat phone-in show.

Earlier this week the Mayor and Councillor Elise Wilson, Digital City Region Lead for the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA), have written directly to the Chief Executives of seven telecommunication companies in the UK, calling for consistency across the industry.

Telecoms companies and the Government recently announced (opens new page)  a joint package of measures to “support vulnerable consumers”, including some “free calls from landlines or mobiles.” However, there is no one standardised approach across the industry, and no approach that includes over-75s in the grouping classed as “vulnerable.”

“It is essential we support our most vulnerable residents at this time,” write Andy and Elise, “and that our citizens are safe in the knowledge that any extensive use of telephones or the internet during this period of lockdown will not hit them in the pocket in the week and months to come.”

Granting cheaper landline use for older customers, and those vulnerable at this time, would enable individuals to remain in contact with their friends, families, carers and the wider community, and act to combat social isolation or feelings of loneliness or depression.

The industry has been challenged to implement a consistent cap on landline (or is it also now mobile?) phone charges for over-75s and that this follows, as a minimum, the model already implemented by BT - £5 per month cap for all landline calls in addition to line rental for the remainder of 2020.

This simple act is of real importance and would have meaningful impact on peoples’ daily lives at this difficult time.

In addition the pair have also written to Oliver Dowden CBE, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), stating that while it is important to welcome the commitment of the telecommunications industry in working to change their practices to assist vulnerable people at this challenging time, the sector and the Government should go even further.

The letter calls for support with a comprehensive range of measures that would have real impact including not only the consistent capping of phone charges for older people but assistance for low income households in the form of free mobile data in homes receiving free school meals and increased payment flexibilities.

“We are not only committed to limiting suffering and hardship but also ensuring that vulnerable families with school aged children and college students can continue their studies, particularly those from low income households,” say Andy and Elise.

The final ask of the Secretary of State is support in establishing a more consistent way of identifying vulnerable customers across the industry. Many of the benefits that the telecommunications industry recently announced are designed to aid those classed by providers as “vulnerable”. However, in most cases individual customers are required to alert their providers to the fact they should be classed in that category.

Image: barteko (opens new page) on Flickr licensed via Creative Commons

Article Published: 09/04/2020 11:44 AM