An estimated 4.7 million UK homes have struggled with the cost of their telecoms bills this year, with some people even cutting back on food to afford them, according to Ofcom.
Research by the regulator found that almost one in five (19%) have experienced problems in paying for communication services, at a time of uncertainty for many during the pandemic.
Some 6% said they had difficulty paying for their fixed home broadband and 5% struggled with mobile bills.
A representative survey of 5,567 adults suggests that 11% were forced to scale back their packages in order to manage costs, while 5% reduced spending on food or clothing, and 4% had to cancel a service.
Some groups are more likely to have experienced an affordability issue, Ofcom said, including households with somebody unemployed and looking for work (38%), young people aged 18 to 24 (29%), or a resident with an impacting or limiting condition (29%).
The regulator also warned that the number of customers being disconnected for non-payment has climbed after some providers paused disconnections in the early stages of the pandemic.
Disconnections were lowest during the initial stages of lockdown, at 0.02% for fixed home broadband and 0.14% for mobile in May, but between June and September the number increased to 0.30% for both service types.
Some providers offer cheaper tariffs to help customers on low incomes, but relatively few people have taken them up, due in part to a lack of promotion, Ofcom said.
“Lockdown has laid bare our dependence on a reliable internet connection,” said Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s networks and communications group director.
“So it’s important that affordable options are available so everyone can stay connected – particularly those who have fallen on hard times.
“And while we welcome the support companies have provided customers this year, some people continue to face challenges and it’s clear providers can do more to support customers who are in financial difficulty.”