MORE than 800,000 homes could be missing out on free internet – we explain all the help available including BT WiFi vouchers.
Families are relying on an internet connection now more than ever as children continue to learn from home due to schools being shut.
Schools will be closed until at least March 8 following the third lockdown in England.
They’ll only remain open for vulnerable children and the offspring of key workers, with all other lessons switching online.
To help those who are struggling financially, BT is still offering free WiFi vouchers.
The free vouchers from BT give access to its five million WiFi hotspots across the UK until the end of the academic year in July 2021.
How to save on broadband and TV bills
HERE’S how to save money on your broadband and TV bills:
Audit your subscriptions
If you’ve got multiple subscriptions to various on-demand services, such as Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Sky consider whether you need them all.
Could you even just get by with Freeview, which couldn’t cost you anything extra each month for TV.
Also make sure you’re not paying for Netflix twice via Sky and directly.
Haggle for a discount
If you want to stay with your provider, check prices elsewhere to set a benchmark and then call its customer services and threaten to leave unless it price matches or lowers your bill.
Switch and save
If you don’t want to stay with your current provider check if you can cancel your contract penalty free and switch to a cheaper provider.
Buying on demand access vouchers to BT’s WiFi usually costs £39 a month, or if you sign up for three months, you only have to pay £30 a month.
The vouchers have previously been distributed through the Department for Education (DfE), but BT is now offering these directly to schools.
How to claim free BT WiFi vouchers
It’s up to schools and BT’s charity partners to ask for the vouchers – you can’t go directly to BT to request them yourself.
Your school will need to put in a request through the BT website.
If you think you qualify for the vouchers but you haven’t heard anything, speak to your child’s teacher and ask for help.
On its website, BT says it has made a “substantial number of free Wi-Fi voucher codes” for pupils aged 16 or under.
But it says the number available has been capped at a maximum of 60 per school.
The vouchers are allocated to schools in proportion to the number of kids at a school eligible for free school meals.
Once a school has had an application accepted, BT will send out the codes by email to be handed out.
Each child will get a unique username and password, allowing them to log in to the hotspot network.
The support is available to schools in England, Wales and Scotland, but not independent schools or any schools in Northern Ireland.
Just keep in mind that the network doesn’t reach every address, so it won’t be a suitable solution for all pupils.
BT expects the five million hotspots to reach roughly 20% of UK addresses.
To avoid disappointment, schools should check that coverage is available at each pupil’s home address before applying using BT’s online checker.
Simply enter the postcode for a heatmap to appear, with areas in red representing the best chance of connection.
Where there is no colour shown, it means no hotspot coverage.
Marc Allera, CEO of BT Group’s consumer division, said: “Our BT Lockdown Learning support scheme has so far helped thousands of families access vital educational resources across both our fixed and mobile networks.
“More than 10,000 customers are now benefiting from free unlimited mobile data, and we’ve given more than 60,000 BT WiFi vouchers out to schools for families and kids who need it most.
“With Ofcom estimating around 880,000 family homes are without a broadband connection, we want to help more families.”
What support are others providers offering?
BT isn’t the only telecoms providers to offer support for disadvantaged pupils during the coronavirus crisis.
The majority of major companies have signed up to the Department for Education’s (DfE) Get Help with Tech programme.
This aims to help struggling families who are without an internet connection.
To get this help, you’ll need to speak to your school first to see if you’re eligible.
Your school should then make any necessary arrangements through the DfE website.
EE, which is owned by BT, is giving out unlimited extra data for struggling families.
If you’re eligible, you’ll receive the data on top of your current plan.
The extra data, which is available for pay monthly and pay-as-you-go customers, will last until the end of July.
O2 is giving out 40GB of free data per month to disadvantaged families.
The data is available for both pay monthly and pay-as-you-go users.
Throughout the pandemic, the provider has also given free access to more than 30 sites providing financial and mental health support.
Sky Mobile customers might be eligible for a one-off 100GB extra boost to their monthly allowance.
You have to be a pay monthly customer to claim the extra data.
It’s understood that Sky will take 1,800 requests for increased data allowances across all schools.
SMARTY will offer eligible students unlimited data to help them study from home.
The extra allowance is available until the end of July for both monthly and pay-as-you-go customers.
Three UK is also providing unlimited data for struggling school children.
The unlimited data, available for monthly and pay-as-you-go customers, will be applied until the end of the school year in July.
Three has also zero-rated calls and data to NHS services and websites, while NHS staff can get free data upgrades too.
Virgin Media is offering 20GB of extra free data per month to disadvantaged families.
Again, the additional data is administered through schools.
But it’ll only be available for contract customers, not those on pay-as-you-go.
Vodafone customers could get free unlimited data if they’re struggling financially.
You could be eligible if you’re a pay monthly customer, or a pay-as-you-go user on a ‘Big Value Bundle’ worth £10 or more.
Vodafone has previously offered 350,000 SIM cards with 30GB of data to schools and colleges for disadvantaged children.
All the SIMs have been ordered by more than 9,000 schools and colleges across the UK.
But Vodafone has since pledged to bring out a further 100,000 SIMs.
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