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Consumer Skills

matthew
09th July 2021

Coronavirus: Telecoms

Information about the impact of COVID-19 (coronavirus) to telecom services in Northern Ireland, including digital TV services, such as Sky.

Last updated on 9 July 2021.

Although The Consumer Council currently has no direct statutory role in relation to Broadband, Telecoms, Mobile, and Pay-per-view TV services, we are keen to see where we can help consumers, who are experiencing problems at this difficult time.

Please contact us on 0800 121 6022, through The Consumer Council website or by emailing contact@consumercouncil.org.uk.

New commitments from Telecoms providers for consumers during COVID-19

  • All providers have committed to working with customers who find it difficult to pay their bill as a result of Covid-19 to ensure that they are treated fairly and appropriately supported.
  • All providers will remove all data allowance caps on all current fixed broadband services.
  • All providers have agreed to offer some new, generous mobile and landline packages to ensure people are connected and the most vulnerable continue to be supported. For example, some of these packages include data boosts at low prices and free calls from their landline or mobile.
  • All providers will ensure that vulnerable customers or those self-isolating receive alternative methods of communication wherever possible if priority repairs to fixed broadband and landlines cannot be carried out.

Staying connected during the coronavirus

As broadband and mobile networks are under increased demand because of the coronavirus, Ofcom has published seven tips to help you stay connected, which is especially important for everyone who is working from home over the coming weeks.

Visit the OfCom website to view all seven helpful tips.

Broadband and telecom providers

Many broadband and telecoms providers have said they can cope with increase in demand as many more people stay at home.

If you would you would like to raise an issue with a telecoms provider, you must contact your provider in the first instance. Guidance on making a complaint is provided by Ofcom or alternatively contact The Consumer Council who can give you advice on this complaint process. 

BT

Updates to our stores
BT stores in Northern Ireland are now open. Check the BT storefinder to make sure your local store is open. 

BT Broadband usage policy
BT has removed all caps on all broadband packages so every customer has unlimited data as a results of coronavirus. All customers who currently have limited broadband packages will automatically get unlimited data. This is a permanent change, BT will no longer have limited broadband packages.

NHS workers get unlimited data
NHS workers get unlimited data. This offer is now closed to new registrations. If you registered on or before 17 December 2020, you’ll continue to get unlimited data until 30 June 2021.

Access to NHS online, NHS COVID-19 app and 111
BT mobile customers can now access NHS online and the NHS Covid-19 app without using any of the data in their plan – even if they’ve run out of data completely. Calling 111 remains free for customers across the UK.

Vulnerable customers
BT landline only customers, BT are removing out of bundle charges for the most critical services, like UK landline and mobile calls, and placing a £5 per month cap so they can make the essential calls they need to keep in touch, without worrying about their bill.

Financial support
BT know this is already a stressful time for customers worried about their finances, so they put in place a dedicated team to support customers that need extra help with their bills. If a customer contacts them with money worries related to coronavirus, they will work out what works best for them.

BBC Bitesize
From the end of January, all BT mobile customers can access BBC Bitesize without using any of their data.

Unlimited mobile data
From the end of January, all BT mobile customers can access BBC Bitesize without using any of their data. This offer is no longer available but BT hope to add more education sites, so check back later for more details.

Free public Wi-Fi
BT are helping eligible pupils get online through over 5 million BT Wi-Fi hotspots. They will be offering Wi-Fi vouchers to schools and their charity partners, helping children stay in touch with their teachers. Each Wi-Fi voucher code will allow access to the internet on up to three devices at a time, for free, until the end of July 2021.

Engineer visits

Connections and installations
Most of BT packages can be installed without an engineer coming into your home. But if you do need an engineer visit, BT will let you know before you order. Then BT will offer you the earliest available date for the visit.

If BT need to change the date of an appointment they have already made, or cancel it, they will contact you. 

Repairs
Now lockdown restrictions are easing, our engineers will be able to come into your home for repairs if need be. 

Booking an engineer appointment if you are high-risk from COVID-19
Call BT on 0800 800 150 to discuss any appointments or installations you need.

This number is for the most vulnerable customers - please only call if you have a letter from the government saying you are high-risk.

How to prepare for an engineer visit inside your home
If an engineer needs to enter your home please:

  • clear a path to the main telephone socket, if you have one
  • wipe down any surfaces around the telephone socket that the engineer may come into contact with
  • open any windows or doors where the engineer will be working
  • keep two metres away from the engineer to maintain social distancing, and move to a different room if possible

 

The engineer will:

  • contact you to check your circumstances and whether they still need to enter your home
  • follow government guidelines and wear protective equipment, for example a mask and/or gloves
  • wipe down any surface they have touched 

More information is available on the BT website.

EE

EE Stores
EE stores are starting to re-open. Check to see if your local store is open.

Support to access educational sites
EE have been giving all school kids the ability to access Oak National Academy and BBC Bitesize without using up their data. This will end on 31 July 2021.

NHS Websites
EE have made it free to visit the NHS online, and to use the NHS COVID-19 app. This means you won’t use data (even if you’ve run out). Calls to NHS 111 are free too.

More information is available on the EE website.

giffgaff

Home schooling Support
We’re supporting home schooling families by providing 100GB of free data through the Department for Education. To take advantage of this, members will have to register with their school, trust or local authorities and meet the criteria. It is all explained on the government website. If you're eligible, your school should be able to make an application on your behalf. Terms apply.

NHS Websites
Calls to the NHS 111 help line have always been free. And now you can also visit the NHS website without using your data, along with a number of other important websites that many people will rely on for support during this time. More information available on the giffgaff website.

Calling hospital 087 numbers
From 5 November 2020 if you call 087 numbers owned by Hospedia, the access charge will be free when calling from a giffgaff SIM. These numbers are used to access the bedside telephones found in some hospitals around the UK.

Usually, if a member calls these numbers they will incur two separate costs, giffgaff’s access charge and Hospedia’s service charge. GiffGaff have made their access charge free so members will only pay the service charge and the cost of the call.

More information is available on the GiffGaff website.

O2

02 Retail Stores
O2 stores in Northern Ireland are now open. Unless we are in a National lockdown, 02 stores will open where local restrictions allow. Check to see if your local store is open.

NHS Websites
Calls to the NHS 111 help line have always been free. And now you can also visit the NHS website without using your data, along with a number of other important websites that many people will rely on for support during this time. More information available on the FAQs on the 02 website.

Payments
We're here to support you when times get tough. There are lots of options we can discuss if you don't think you're able to pay your bill on time. Please visit our payment support page for more detail.

How will I be protected in O2 stores?
02 have a virtual queue system to ensure you aren’t held in unnecessary queues or kept waiting. All their people will be wearing the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), including gloves and face coverings.

All stores will be equipped with hand sanitiser and all customers will be encouraged to use it when they enter the store. Face coverings will also be mandatory in our stores.

 02 will be supporting NHS Test and Trace in our English and Welsh stores. QR codes will be ready to scan when you enter the store.

More information is available on the O2 website.

Plusnet

Engineer visits
A large amount of work can be completed outside without an engineer having to go into your property. If an engineer does need to enter your home or premises, they'll do all they can to safeguard their visit and to follow social distancing guidelines.

To keep you and them safe, there's a couple of steps which will take place.

  • Before the visit:
    Openreach will send you a text message which will include a short video with three simple steps to follow before they visit. You'll need to respond to the text to agree to the guidance. If you don't respond, the engineer will try to contact you to run through the guidance.
     
  • On the day of the visit:
    The Openreach engineer will contact you to ask some screening questions to help them understand if there's been any changes since you booked your appointment.

Worried about paying your bill?
Plusnet understand that you might be struggling to pay bills at the moment. Plusnet can help by offering payment plans, if it helps make things a little easier to manage. Please get in touch with Plusnet and they will do all they can to help.

No data charges for BBC bitesize
With all schools across the nation being closed right now, Plusnet are working to support parents with home schooling and help keep their kids learning. All school kids will be able to access BBC Bitesize learning content without using up their data allowance.

This free support scheme will be available to all Plusnet Mobile customers from the end of January 2021 until the end of July 2021. You don't need to do anything, Plusnet will just remove all data charges for BBC Bitesize until the schools reopen. It's as easy as that.

Plusnet call centres
To ensure that you stay connected and to protect our staff Plusnet call centres are open 8am-8pm. Its likely Plusnet will be extremely busy if you call, so please only ring if it's really necessary and help us to prioritise our vulnerable customers first. Available 7 days a week on 0800 432 0200.

More information is available on the Plusnet website.

Sky

TV or Broadband engineer visits from Sky

Sky are now sending engineers to fix TV, broadband and talk problems and to install Sky. But they are following current government guidance to keep their engineers and you safe.

Sky need you to do a few things to prepare for their visit in case the engineer needs to enter your home. Key things are:

  • You must be able to keep a safe distance of two metres from the engineer at all times. Or where possible, if you can stay in another room.
    • If we can’t keep a safe social distance, Sky won’t be able to complete your visit
  • Make sure the engineer has a clear working space, all household items are stored away and any areas the engineer needs to access have been cleaned.
  • Where possible, open all doors and windows in the rooms the engineer will need to access.
  • If you have pets, make sure they’re kept in a safe place while any doors are open.
  • Leave your WiFi password, My Sky username and Viewing Card (if applicable) by your main TV or Sky hub.

Sky engineers will wear a mask while in your home to keep you and them safe.

 

Broadband engineer visits from Openreach

Openreach installs
If you’re switching to Sky Broadband or moving home and you have an engineer booked to install your new line, the Openreach engineer will complete a pre-visit consultation. It might be a call or a text before the visit your home to make sure it is safe for the visit to go ahead.

Go to Sky Broadband & Talk new line installs for more info.

Openreach repair visits
Openreach might offer you the opportunity to speak to an engineer remotely before the visit to talk you through any simple troubleshooting that might fix your issue. If they can fix the issue without coming to your home, they’ll cancel the appointment if you agree. If not, the visit will go ahead as planned.

The Openreach engineer will complete a pre-visit consultation call if they need to visit your home, to make sure it is safe for the visit to go ahead. It will cover:

  • Making sure there's a clear pathway for the engineer to access the master socket.
  • All surfaces are cleaned before the visit.
  • Leaving all windows and doors open during the visit, if possible.
  • During the visit, asking you to maintain social distancing of two metres or go into another room.
  • The engineer will wear a face mask to keep both them and you safe.

More information is available on the SKY website.

Talk Talk

Getting in contact
Talk Talk’s call waiting times are longer than usual.  TalkTalk recommends that in the first instance customers should use its 24/7 online service centre to check that all is running as it should be. Customers can also contact TalkTalk through its online webchat.

Fibre 150 and Future Fibre customers
If you’ve recently signed up for Fibre 150 or Future Fibre and your installation date is on or after 11th January 2021, it’s likely your appointment will be postponed until 22nd February 2021 onwards. If this is the case, TalkTalk will send an SMS and call you to let you know. Openreach will also be in touch via SMS to confirm your new installation date. You can contact TalkTalk to choose a different date if your rescheduled appointment isn't convenient. If your broadband speed is less than 30Mbps on your current line or you don’t have an active internet service, your install will go ahead as scheduled.

Customers with accessibility needs
TalkTalk will prioritise their phone lines for customers who have already registered as needing additional accessibility support with a dedicated UK tech team supporting 7 days a week from 9am to 7pm weekdays and 9am to 6pm weekends.

You can register your additional accessibility requirements with us using My Account

NHS Websites
TalkTalk customers can now access the NHS 111 Coronavirus service online to find out if they need to continue to stay at home or if they need medical help call 111, it’s FREE for all customer.

More information is available on the TalkTalk website.  

Three

Three Stores
Three are re-opening many of their stores in line with government guidelines so be sure to check our Store Locator for the details on your local Three store.

Alternative ways to contact Three include: Three app, Three Store Now and Three Live.

NHS Websites
Three is providing its customers with free data to access NHS websites. All calls to NHS 111 are already FREE.

Bill Payments
Three know that the current situation will have a financial impact on a lot of people. That's why, if you struggle to pay your bill during this period, Three won't stop your services. All they ask is that you let them know by calling 333 free 7 days a week so that Three can discuss your options.

More information is available on the Three website.

Tesco Mobile

NHS Websites
Tesco mobile customers can access NHS websites without using their data allowance. Tesco mobile have also introduced unlimited free evening and weekend calls which will not increase the tariff price for the whole length of your contract. To find out more visit tescomobile.com/littlehelps.

Worried about paying your bill?
If you’re looking to defer your bill, please log in to My Account and go to the ‘Bills and payments’ section. If you’re worried about paying your bill and you need to talk to us, you can call us on 4455 from your Tesco Mobile phone or 0345 301 4455 from another phone.

We’ll be able to talk you through your options and find one that’s right for you. Click here for more information.

Free access to the information you need
You can now visit a range of helpful websites for free on your phone, without using any data, from financial support, to mental health and Government advice. This includes Government Covid-19 information, which gives you the latest guidance on how to protect yourself and others.

For those who need assistance abroad at this time, we’ve also made some key airline UK phone numbers free to call from anywhere in the world. Check the list. You can also call the UK 101 police non-emergency number for free.

Tesco Mobile Stores
Tesco mobile are open as normal in Northern Ireland. Most of our stores are open from 9am-6pm Monday to Saturday, Sundays vary. NHS, emergency service and care workers now have priority access to our stores at any time. If there's a queue, please come to the front with your valid ID.

Check store details for new priority hours for vulnerable and elderly customers. To check opening hours find your local Phone Shop.

Check the network near you
We share O2’s network. Check the live status checker, updated on the hour, every hour.

More information is available on the Tesco mobile website.

Virgin

Virgin Stores
Virgin Media retail stores are now permanently closed, but don’t worry – they are still supporting customers 24 hours, 7 days a week at Virgin Media

Payment
Virgin Media are doing all they can to help their customers if they find it difficult to pay their bill during this time.

NHS websites
Virgin has made all visits to the NHS online free, so you won’t use any data while accessing information.

Remote learning
As schools have closed and children are switching to remote learning once again, Virgin Media understand this is tough for many families. Working with government, Virgin Media are providing 20GB of extra mobile data per month, for free, to those who don’t have any broadband connectivity and have limited mobile data. More information is available here.

Vulnerable Pay Monthly customers
Virgin Media are keeping their most vulnerable Pay Monthly customers connected with unlimited minutes and a monthly 10GB data boost. Virgin Media vulnerable Pay As You Go customers are getting 500 extra minutes, 500 extra texts, and a 1GB data boost for the next three months.

Technician Visit
Virgin have also put extra safety measures and checks in place before and during any customer visits.

  • Three days before a scheduled technician install visit, and one day before a scheduled technician service visit, Virgin will text customers to ask if anyone living at their property has been asked to self-isolate or has flu-like symptoms. If customers respond with “yes”, then the visit will be rescheduled for two weeks later, with confirmation of this date by text within 24 hours of the appointment.
  • On the day of a technician visit, customers will receive a call around 30 minutes before they arrive. The same process as above will be followed if a customer responds with “yes”.
  • Where it’s possible, Virgin will send you a self-install QuickStart pack which means there’s no need for someone to visit your home. This service is currently available at no extra cost.
  • Hygiene measures for engineers were in place long before the coronavirus pandemic. These include anti-bacterial hand wipes and latex gloves as standard kit.
  • Where QuickStart is unavailable, Virgin will still installing Virgin TV boxes for new customers, but for now they won’t install any extra TV boxes to minimise their technicians’ time in customers’ homes. Customers will receive a £10 monthly bill credit until Virgin can safely complete their order. Similarly, Virgin technicians won’t install or move extra phone outlets, extensions or WiFi Pods, and ask customers to contact them by phone or through their online Messenger to reschedule when restrictions ease. For Hub installs or upgrades, Virgin offering their install-it-yourself QuickStart service at no extra charge, where available. Replacement Virgin TV remotes are being sent out by post.

How do I prepare for a technician visit inside my home?
If a technician needs to enter your home, please make sure you:

  • Clear a path to the main wall socket where your Virgin Media product or service is
  • Wipe down any surfaces around the areas where the technician will be working
  • Open any windows or doors where the technician will be working
  • Keep two metres away from the technician to maintain social distancing
  • Move to a different room if possible

More information is available on the Virgin's website.

 

Vodafone

Vodafone Stores
Vodafone stores are now open. There are also many ways Vodafone can support you. Help is available through webchat on the Vodafone UK website or by phone on 03333 040 191.

Store staff are now helping customers through webchat.

Will I be charged for deliveries?
In light of recent events surrounding the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) outbreak, Vodafone customers won’t be charged for deliveries from 27 March 2020 onwards.

You’ll be able to have your orders sent to your home address free of charge on weekdays. Deliveries can be scheduled for Saturday as a chargeable extra.

Home broadband deliveries are exempt and will continue to be charged as normal.

What can I do if I need to repair my device?
Please call 191 and we'll book a repair through our call centre. We'll post a bag out to you which'll include a returns box for your device to be returned in.

Once your device is repaired, we'll have your handset returned to you via courier.

You can track repairs online so you can follow your handset's progress through the repair cycle. You can also set up a repair in your nearest store.

NHS Websites
Vodafone has enabled mobile customers, whatever their payment plan, to access certain NHS websites – like http://www.nhs.uk/and http://www.111.nhs.uk/– without using any of their data allowance.

It has also added extra capacity to its broadband and mobile networks to put them in the best possible position to cope with any extra demand as more people work from home.

Unemployed?
Vodafone has launched a new plan to help people who have become unemployed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic to stay connected. The plan will give people unlimited mobile data, minutes and texts for just £10 a month, for up to six months, with no fuss, no need for a credit check and no contract to sign. Unlimited data plan extended until 31st October 2021.

Bill payments
Vodafone main priority during this time is keeping the UK connected. If you want to find out more information on how we can support you during financial difficulties, please see here: https://vodafone.uk/Advice

If you're unable to pay your bill on time, you can contact us on 56677 to set up a promise to pay, or to review one previously set up.

More information is available on the Vodafone website.

Sky Sports and BT Sport

Sky has announced that customers  Sky Sports packages have resumed. See Sky.com for further information.

  • Your Sports subscription payment will be paused until the action resumes
  • All 11 Sky Sports channels plus your recordings will remain available
  • As soon as the action returns, Sky will reinstate your Sports subscription. You don’t need to do anything.

Virgin has announced that if you have paused Sky Sports, BT Sports or both, that credit has been applied to your bills to cover the usual costs for the Sky Sports or BT Sports package per month. For further details see virginmedia.com

BT Sport customers can now apply for a refund following disruption to sporting events. At present you can claim back the value of one month's membership. How much this is will be depends on your package. Visit bt.com/sportsupport to apply, and enter your name, email address and account number.  The sum will be credited to your BT account within ten working days.