Phone companies should cap the bills of older and more vulnerable landline customers during the coronavirus lockdown, Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham has said.
Mayor Burnham said that telecommunications companies and the government should place a cap on the monthly landline bills of people over aged 75.
His comments came after speaking to an elderly resident on his BBC radio phone-in.
80 year old Mary said that she had been self-isolating since early March and that the landline is her only way of communicating with the outside world.
She told listeners: “I have no computer, along with thousands of other elderly people. And we’re very concerned that at the end of all this our telephone bills, if we do try to communicate with people, are going to be astronomical.”
“Is there anything you can do, or the telecommunications industry can do, to help the elderly so they can pick up the phone, ask for help or just to have a chat?”
Telecommunications companies and government recently announced a joint package that saw providers agree to offer ‘new generous packages to ensure people are connected and the most vulnerable continue to be supported’.
Anyone struggling to pay their pill as a result of the pandemic would also be ‘treated fairly and appropriately supported,’ the government said.
But mayor Burnham said this support should go further.
He said: “Mary’s call on today’s Hot Seat on BBC Radio Manchester really hit home. My parents are in a similar position to Mary, having not left the house for some time. The deeper we get into this crisis the more difficult it will become for people experiencing the effects of isolation, and the more they will need contact with other people. For many people the only form of communication with others at the moment is over the telephone.
“Therefore, it is important to welcome the commitment of the telecommunications industry in working to change their practices to make life easier for vulnerable people at this challenging time.
“However, the sector and the Government should go further and extend the support to all people aged over 75 – they should be supported and have a cap placed on their monthly landline bills.
“BT are the biggest provider of landline services in the UK and they recently announced a £5 cap on the cost of any phone calls made by a customer who only has a landline. They say those customers will never pay more than £5 in addition to their line rental each month. While others are offering free landline calls it is only for a short window – therefore I call on the industry to adopt as a minimum the model of BT, so that the older and vulnerable people in our communities can rest assured that their phone bills will never spiral out of control. Landline users, like Mary living here in Greater Manchester, need support at this time and I hope soon the industry can provide her with even more peace of mind.”
The Greater Manchester Combined Authority has said they will speak to Ofcom and will work with the regular and the big landline providers to ‘update providers’ databases and vastly extend the support on offer to vulnerable customers’.