Government steps in to delay UK landline switch off for vulnerable Brits

The UK government is taking further action to delay the switch off of traditional landline technology amidst growing fears vulnerable Brits could be left without essential telecare services. 

Phone network operators including Openreach, CityFibre and Community Fibre have joined others including Virgin Media O2 and BT in promising to protect the nearly two million customers who use personal alarm safety devices that rely on old landline technology to function.

The UK’s phone companies are collectively upgrading the country’s landlines to all run on digital internet connections by the end of 2025. That means anyone with a landline will require a broadband connection, but there are fears that vulnerable and elderly citizens will be left isolated in the event of a power cut, which is said to render the new digital landlines unusable as they require an internet connection.

The use of personal alarms in emergencies also largely relies on landline connections, which led to government intervention in December to pause the telecom companies’ landline switch off to ensure people were not left without functioning telecare services.

“The safety of vulnerable customers comes before anything else and that’s why I called on the industry to listen to concerns and take action to make sure the right protections are in place,” said technology secretary Michelle Donelan.

AllPointsFibre, Ogi, KCOM, and WightFibre also agreed to the new measures, which will see telcos check whether their customers have a telecare device and provide at least 12 months’ notice to phone providers before “enforcing” the switch to digital, according to the government. None of these customers would be migrated to a digital landline without the phone provider, customer, or phone company confirming there is an agreed solution in place.

“I welcome more telecoms companies joining forces to make this a priority, meaning we now have agreement from those responsible for our telecoms infrastructure and those providing mobile and broadband services,” said Donelan. This will provide much needed reassurance to those relying on these vital devices and I will continue to pressure organisations to do everything in their power to make sure the switchover is seamless and safe.”

The government said the new agreement with telecoms firms “will better protect those using personal alarms, known as telecare, which offer remote support to elderly, disabled, and vulnerable people – with many located in rural and isolated areas.”

Rocio Concha, Which? director of policy and advocacy, said it was positive to see the government getting assurance from phone operators that they will help look after their customers while the digital tech is installed.

“The government and Ofcom must be prepared to take tough action if firms fail to keep up their side of the bargain. The transition to digital landlines is necessary and offers advantages, but it is vital that no one is left behind as the migration continues”

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