Social landlords are in talks with internet service providers in a bid to arrange free online access for tenants ahead of the introduction of universal credit.
From October 2013, a range of benefits will begin to be merged into one monthly payment, administered by a central IT system. This has led to concerns that tenants without internet access may struggle to manage their claims as the government expects most claims to be made online.
Westminster Council, which owns 22,000 homes, is in talks with a private company to provide free broadband to all its social housing tenants to counter the problem. The council estimates three in 10 of its tenants do not have online access.
Under the proposed scheme, the company would pay for a fibre optic link into the council’s housing stock.
Tenants would be offered a box enabling free internet access through their televisions. They would be able to access government, email, shopping and banking websites and some freeview television channels.
In return for funding the free service, the company will offer more complex packages tenants would pay for.
Jonathan Glanz, cabinet member for housing at Westminster Council, said: ‘It is still being topped and tailed in terms of the commercial agreement, [but] it is something we would like to see happen so nobody can say they don’t have access to the internet.’
The Conservative-led authority hopes to pilot the scheme on around 2,000 properties.
England’s largest housing association, 78,000-home Sanctuary Group, also confirmed it has been in discussions with companies, including BT, to improve online access for tenants.
North Lincolnshire Homes has also piloted its own internet service. The 10,000-home landlord plans to roll it out to all tenants later this year.
Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith this month said the government will examine ways of introducing cut-price internet for social tenants.
Martha Lane Fox, the government’s digital champion, said last year that 4.1 million adults in social housing do not have internet access.