Broadband on benefits: how BT Basic can help

julia kukiewicz
By Julia Kukiewicz

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Line rental costs have shot through the roof over the past few years.

The biggest providers charge upwards of £18, and most of the competition isn't far behind.

It's enough to put the poorest households off altogether.

But while it's worth noting that there are lots of sneaky ways to cut costs, for those in receipt of Government support there's one big way: BT Basic.

BT Basic: the basics

Basic is a social tariff which the telecoms provider runs at a loss in order to meet their Universal Service commitment.

Basic aims to keep phones ringing in the most vulnerable households by charging as little as possible: £5.10 a month.

Who can get it?

Anyone who receives one of the following could get BT Basic:


Note there are a few exceptions.

While most phone lines in the UK are BT-compatible, some - like those used by Virgin Media, for example - aren't, and therefore won't be able to get BT Basic. In this situation, BT are willing to install a line, usually free of charge.

However, those with more than one phone line, whether they're at the same or different addresses, can't get BT Basic unless they're also registered as being Chronically Sick and Disabled by the local authority.

This is largely to weed out the roughly 40% of people who were on BT's old Light User scheme because they had second homes, rather than low incomes.

Business and temporary lines are also exempted.

People with phone lines that can only receive calls, or that are only used for burglar alarms, also can't sign up to BT Basic.

Universal Credit: rule change

As mentioned above, customers receiving Universal Credit - the single payment for job seekers and those on low income - are only eligible if they have zero earnings.

BT say this means the "claimant has no earnings from employment or self employment during the assessment period for their benefit".

Anyone who's taking advantage of the flexibility offered by UC to take on a couple of hours of work here and there will therefore find they're probably not able to get Basic.

As UC is a working age benefit, pensioner eligibility remains unaffected.

What's included for £5.10

Basic customers can make up to £4.50 worth of UK landline (01/02/03 numbers) and international landline calls.

Once this allowance has been used up, calls to these numbers will cost 11.3p per minute, plus a connection fee of 3.3p per call.

In summer 2016, BT's standard call charges roseto 11p per minute - but Basic's call connection fee is still a fraction of the standard rate.

Calls to 0845 and 0870 numbers are free at weekends, as long as they don't exceed 60 minutes in length, or are for dial-up internet services.

Basic customers also get access to Call Barring. They'll also be signed up free of charge to BT Privacy with Caller Display.

Although benefiting from Caller Display requires a compatible handset, the privacy part includes automatic registration with the Telephone Preference Service, which should help cut down on the number of nuisance calls users receive.

As mentioned above, those who don't have a phone line but who are eligible for the package, should be able to get the line installed and connected free of charge - a saving of up to £130.

BT say the only time a Basic customer may need to pay a connection fee is if there are "exceptional circumstances that involve special equipment or work".

They say they'll tell a customer about such charges before agreeing to go ahead with that work.

And what's not...

During the week 0845/0870 numbers aren't included in that £4.50, so they'll cost extra.

Unlike other landline and mobile customers, people with BT Basic don't pay any access charges for calls made to "service numbers" - those starting 09 and 118, and all other 084 and 087 numbers.

But they will still attract a per minute service charge - see our guide to how service numbers are charged for, here, for more detail.

Calls to UK mobile phones, and the operator aren't included.

There's nothing to stop users from signing up to cost-cutting phone services such as override services for international calls, but they're also exempt from the inclusive calls allowance.

That means that however much the call costs using the override service, that amount will be added onto the caller's monthly bill.

Basic users also have to wave goodbye to add-ons like Friends & Family.

Basic and broadband

Happily, though, Basic line rental still allows for a broadband connection.

How much?

The broadband part of BT Basic + Broadband costs £4.85 per month, or £14.55 on top of line rental every three months - equivalent to paying £9.95 a month for phone and broadband.

It's limited to 10GB usage per month - enough to browse online for up to 30 hours, stream up to 10 hours of video, or download one standard definition movie and up to ten albums, each month.

Package Broadband Contract term Upfront cost Monthly price
bt Basic Broadband Up to 16Mb
10GB usage
No minimum term £9.95 £9.95 inc line rental

Customers will receive an email warning them when they approach the data limit.

Those who go over will be charged another £1.80 for every 1GB unit they use - so someone using an extra 0.9GB will be charged £1.80, and someone using 1.2GB more than their allowance will be charged £3.60.

Do I get much choice?

Once upon a time customers could stick with BT for the cheap line rental but go elsewhere for broadband.

But many of the cheapest ISPs expect customers to take their home phone line as well as their broadband service.

Plusnet's broadband without phone costs £13.49 a month, giving a total of £18.59 including BT's basic line rental (check availability here). It's more expensive than BT's basic broadband option above, but does offer unlimited downloads.

Back when they were still Primus, Fuel used to offer line rental for up to 70% cheaper than BT and the other big providers, but now they charge £17.60 a month.

That higher line rental is compulsory for those who want to sign up to Fuel's unlimited broadband, which costs just £6 a month - giving a total monthly bill of £23.60 a month.

It used to be the case that trying to mix and match BT Basic with another provider's broadband would almost always end up costing more than using BT's standard service - but it's now a genuinely useful, if somewhat limited, option to explore.

For more on BT broadband in general, see our full review here.

Basic or Light User?

Note that BT's similarly discounted Light User scheme does not allow customers to take broadband in addition to their cheaper phone line.

Basic replaced Light User way back in 2008, but it's possible that some customers are still on the old system.

If that's the case, the solution should be pretty simple: just ask BT to be moved to Basic. They should have done so already in any case.

Is it worth it?

All in all, Basic isn't a knockout in terms of generosity but it is a good way to save some money and stay in touch.

It's probably worth checking whether the service will be too restrictive, and whether there are more suitable options available at a reasonable price elsewhere.

What is good, however, is that there isn't a minimum contract period for BT Basic customers - so those who qualify but then find it is too restrictive can leave at any time.

They won't be hit with any kind of penalty payments, such as early termination fees or broadband cease charges - as long as they settle what they owe.

Restricted service

As we noted above, Basic customers don't really benefit from money savers such as services that offer low international rates, and it's a real shame that mobile calls aren't included.

Cheaper than the alternatives?

Bundling broadband and phone

Take a look at our comparison table of the cheapest broadband and landline deals on the market here.

At the time of this update, there are introductory offers for unlimited broadband that give a basic total monthly bill from £20, with weekend calls thrown in.

For those determined not to bundle, as we mentioned above, Plusnet Unlimited Broadband is £13.49 a month. Add on BT Basic at £5.10 and that's £18.59 a month. But Plusnet do charge more in some more rural areas, so check first.

Going without a home phone

Going without a phone line altogether is also becoming an increasingly popular option and for those already locked into a mobile contract it might work out considerably cheaper.

We covered this issue in more depth here.

How to apply

Those who do decide to go for Basic will need to apply by post.

Give BT a ring on 0800 800 864 between 8am and 6pm on a weekday and they'll send out a form.

The form asks for home details - in order to supply the service - and for date of birth and National Insurance number to confirm benefits.

There's no need to go through any of the time consuming benefits forms again.

People thinking about applying who haven't yet started receiving benefits, or who are unsure about eligibility in the short term, should hold off on applying. Rejected applicants need to wait at least six months before they can try again.

For more information see BT's site here.


10 January 2017

I rang BT today on behalf of my 93 year old Mother who wishes to change phone provider from the Post Office to BT and register for BT Basics. After spending 45 minutes on the phone and giving them all her information, I was then told she could not keep her existing telephone number. Shouldn't this have been pointed out in the first few minutes of our conversation. Bearing in mind I spoke with 2 different people and was only informed of this in the final moments of subscribing.

3 January 2017

If you qualify for this and you need a new line at your property, well I would take it just for that and to save up to £130 on the price of installation otherwise.

Then as soon as you can I would ditch them for another provider, cos this is going to catch you out by making you watch your usage all the time. But once you have the line installed, it's much cheaper to switch !

15 December 2016

I phoned, e-mailed and even wrote to head office with no results or answers from BT, to try and get a form or more info as I am severely disabled and dual sensory this seems afforble solution for someone who relies totally on communications to connect with people, sadly no further on and still struggling with heavy monthly prices to keep connected.

3 November 2016
Theresa James

If I join basics do I still get free fone time after seven pm and at weekends

18 November 2016
Choose team

Hi Theresa, BT Basic includes £4.50 of calls for any time of day, or day of the week - it does not include free evening or weekend calls.

3 October 2016

I would like some help, I was with BT many years ago, and just cancelled my BT service. The internal box and all wiring is inside and untouched, but when I checked online it says I need a new line. I am unwell and can't understand as everything is still there, can anyone help?

12 October 2016
Choose team

Thanks for getting in touch. It sounds like the online check results are referring to the fact that while everything's there, it's not connected to BT's equipment, so you'd need to pay for it to be reconnected. There's more on this kind of situation in <a href=";cuid=2412393" rel="nofollow noopener">thisarticle</a>.

12 March 2015

I'm with Sky and pay &pound;22 that's free broadband unlimited and talk anytime plus I got &pound;100 free M and S gift card, sweet.

12 May 2015
Norman Summerfield

I was moving to Plusnet and was offered free line rental, anytime calls, fibre broadband and TV Plus for &pound;14.50 per month. I find it best to shop around and do not hesitate to ask for better terms.

11 August 2016

Norman who did you get deal for 14.50 with please, thanks

8 October 2015
Marc Smith

Hi, can you tell me who you got the deal from? &pound;14.50 all inclusive sounds great!

25 January 2015

As for ISP's that offer FTTC services which I think all do, any ISP that offers standalone broadband, Plusnet do, as do all the smaller ISP's Sky and TalkTalk, use their own LLU and require you to take their line rental. BT broadband sends shivers down my spine, lol, especially their useless outsourced overseas support.

5 March 2014

Would be interested to know which Fibre Providers will allow you to keep your BT Basic Line.

1 November 2013

PlusNet isn't &pound;12.99 only in rural areas sadly, it is on any exchanges where BT (who own PlusNet) don't have to be competitive because other ISPs haven't put in LLU equipment so they can undercut BT. For example the Science Park exchange in Cambridge city is one such.

9 September 2016
margaret stones

They by charge me &pound;19.99 as I don't have a bank account, I pay monthly by card

11 March 2013

Hello, I started to use BT Basic this month and BT charged me &pound;28.35 a month for broadband option 2. Is this the normal price?

11 March 2013
Choose team

It's difficult to say, it would be best to phone BT and ask them for a breakdown of the monthly charge.