Mobile networks have unleashed a series of changes for customers amid the coronavirus pandemic gripping the UK, mainland Europe and United States. The networks have agreed a number of changes to help keep people connected with friends, family, and important online resources to help them through the crisis. A number of carriers have also introduced new processes for those who are experiencing financial hardship as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, which is estimated to have cost thousands of jobs nationwide.
So, no matter what network you use for your personal or work phone. And no matter whether you’re on a pay monthly contract, SIM-only, or Pay As You Go, here are all the changes you can expect to your phone and your monthly charges….
Three is one of a number of carriers to sign-up to a list of changes agreed with Ofcom and the Government Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport. This includes offering “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.”
Crucially, it is also offering free access to all NHS websites, at home and abroad for all contract and Pay As You Go customers. That means that even if you’re raced through all of the 4G or 5G data in your monthly allowance, you’ll still be able to check the latest guidelines and advice on the coronavirus and how to keep yourself and your family safe from the outbreak. All calls to NHS 111 are already free, so no changes there.
Next up, Three has taken the initiative and dropped the price of its Pay Monthly International Saver Add-on from £15.32 to £10 – this should allow people to stay connected with friends and family who live abroad. The monthly add-on covers 31 destinations around the world. And best of all, if you’ve already subscribed to the extra to make calls to loved ones in other countries, Three will automatically apply the new price to your next bill.
If you’re struggling to pay your bill, Three has a dedicated team that can help. Customers should call 333 free from their Three number and select the relevant automated option. “If you struggle to pay your bill during this period, we won’t stop your services,” Three has promised.
Another change is for those wanting broadband. The mobile network is now offering customers the chance to get its 4G Home broadband without having to sign up to a long-term contract. This means you can now get this wireless internet connection sent straight to your living room on a rolling monthly basis rather than the usual 12 or 24-month term that most suppliers require.
Three also states that you don’t need an engineer to visit your premises for installation and there’s no need for a landline. This is important as some broadband firms aren’t currently visiting homes due to fears over the spread of coronavirus.
To subscribe to Three’s plan you’ll need to to pay a £29 one-off upfront cost, and then £30 per month. This deal includes unlimited data with the router able to have 64 different devices connected at the same time.
And finally, if you’re not happy with your current smartphone or tablet, Three is now offering free delivery on all orders.
That is particularly helpful now that Three has taken the decision to close all stores nationwide following the latest guidance to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. In a written statement, a spokesperson for the company said: “Following guidance from UK Government, we have taken the decision to close all of our retail stores. We thank our people for working over the last few weeks to support our customers in these difficult times.
“We will continue to keep the nation connected and, for any enquiries, customers can use the Three app 24/7, use Three Store Now which is a new service at three.co.uk/three-store-now on which customers can ask general questions between 9am and 6pm. We thank our customers for their patience and support over the past few weeks and we apologise for any inconvenience caused to them.”
EE customers can now enjoy a FREE Apple product to help pass time at home
BT-owned EE has also signed its name to the same changes agreed with Ofcom and the Government Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport. So, that means customers will be able to access the full suite of NHS resources online without eating into their monthly 4G or 5G data allowance. Even if you’ve exhausted your data allowance for the month with FaceTime calls to distant relatives and virtual quizzes with friends on HouseParty, you’ll still be able to check the latest advice on social distancing and ways to prevent the virus on the NHS website.
Calls to 111 are also free from any EE number.
Like Three, EE now has a dedicated team to help people with any concerns about their monthly bills due to the coronavirus pandemic. Customers should call the company on 150 from their EE mobile number to talk about how to get through the next bill cycle.
EE is also working with the UK Government to make sure its customers get the latest advice and guidance on coronavirus via text message. These messages are sent from EE, but will be listed as being sent on behalf of ‘UK Gov’. EE does not share any information it holds on customers with the Government to do this.
EE is also keen to highlight a number of the perks of being on the network that could help pass the time while staying inside to stop the spread of the coronavirus. EE customers can currently get a free subscription to BritBox, Apple Music, Apple News+ and more for six months.
O2 has also signed up to the same exemptions as the other networks listed above. Customers on O2 will be able to access NHS resources and the latest Government guidelines on social distancing and restrictions currently in place in the UK without using any of their mobile data allowance. As above, even if you’re blitzed through your monthly allowance already, you’ll still be able to visit the sites as often as you need.
However, O2 has gone a little further than Three and EE. It has added a number of other websites that it believes could be useful to those at home during the Government enforced lockdown in the UK. This includes data-free access to a number of charities and online information hubs, including Mind, Calm and other mental health resources. Not only that, but O2 is also bringing data-free access to the Citizens Advice and Money Advice Service online too.
And that’s not all.
O2 has upgraded all pay monthly customers to unlimited calls to UK numbers. That covers both mobile numbers and landlines.
So, if you’ve refrained from reaching out to friends, family or at-risk neighbours because of the limits on your monthly contract, this should be a huge reassurance. Best of all, you won’t have to do anything to get the upgrade – O2 has applied it automatically to your account.
Unfortunately, those who are on SIM-Only plans are not eligible for the boost, so you’ll need to keep an eye on your monthly allowance before making calls to your nearest and dearest. Enterprise customers are also not included in the upgrade.
Speaking about the free upgrade, which should impact thousands, Mark Evans CEO Telefonica UK (O2) said: “I’m delighted to see the industry and government working together to help the UK at this critical time. At O2 we have long-established policies in place to support our customers, and right now, digital connectivity is more important than ever as we connect our customers to vital services and their loved ones.”
Vodafone has pledged to follow in the footsteps of EE, Three, O2 and others with data-free access to NHS and Government resources around the coronavirus. So, even if you’ve used all of your monthly data allowance, you’ll be able to get the latest health advice and information on the social distancing measures in place.
No matter how much time customers spend on these NHS webpages – Vodafone won’t count any of this time towards a customers’ data allowance. So those who have a few MBs each month shouldn’t worry about racing through any allowance and being unable to send or receive WhatsApp texts.
However, the charitable organisations available on O2 are not data-free, so be aware if you’re looking at those resources.
That shouldn’t be too much of an issue as Vodafone is aggressively upgrading customers with limited data bundles to unlimited 4G for no extra money.
If someone who has a contract with Vodafone is registered as an NHS worker, Vodafone has pledged to extend its unlimited data offer for another 30 days. These customers will receive a text message from the company informing them of the upgrade, which was scheduled to start April 6, 2020. Vodafone has already proactively started to upgrade pay monthly customers flagged as vulnerable by the UK Government to the same offer.
As well as NHS workers and the most vulnerable in society, Vodafone has rolled out the offer to 500,000 others. Customers had to register using Vodafone’s VeryMe app to take advantage of the limited time offer. Although it was initially rolled out to a limited number of people, Vodafone says it will be monitoring cellular network usage and – should the network allow for it – the firm will increase the offer to more customers. Any pay monthly customer, including consumers and small businesses can apply for this offer.
Importantly, the 30-day unlimited 4G data will not be restricted for NHS workers and vulnerable people.
Any NHS staff or vulnerable customers with personal pay monthly contracts who are not currently flagged on Vodafone’s internal systems can still take advantage of this offer via VeryMe on the My Vodafone app.
Speaking about the upgrade, Vodafone UK Chief Executive Officer Nick Jeffery said: “Last week we announced we were giving 30-days of unlimited free data to our most vulnerable customers and the first 500,000 customers to sign up. We said we would be monitoring the feasibility of opening this up to even more customers and if we could give more capacity, we would.
“So today, we are proactively upgrading all private customers who are registered with us as working for the NHS to this 30-day unlimited free data offer.”
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