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Landline switchover paused for some after Government intervention

The UK’s landline providers are in the process of switching off the old copper network and moving every Briton’s landline to a digital connection, but on Monday BT confirmed it is pausing the rollout of the new internet technology after reports emerged of elderly customers unable to use vital telecare services that rely on landlines.

The Government also announced Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan had met with BT, Virgin Media O2, Sky, TalkTalk, and other telecoms providers on Thursday 14 December to force a solution, which has resulted in a new Charter committed to protecting vulnerable landline customers.

“Telecoms providers have now signed a Charter committing to concrete measures to protect vulnerable households, particularly 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,” a Government press release said. “The move represents a positive step by industry to make sure safety continues to be at the heart of the nationwide switchover and provides reassurance to vulnerable households.

“Under the Charter, all providers have agreed to not forcibly move customers onto the new network unless they are fully confident they will be protected.”

Many personal alarm devices used by elderly or vulnerable people must be connected to landlines in order to alert their chosen contacts or services in the event of an emergency. Digital landlines work via a broadband connection, which relies on constant power. In the event of a power cut, such alarms may not work, leading to concerns that many people with will be left in danger and unable to contact others.

“Over the past week, we’ve been informed about incidents involving telecare users from another communications provider who had been switched to a digital landline,” Lucy Baker MBE, All-IP Director, BT Consumer said in a statement.

“In light of this news, the telecoms industry, including BT, has agreed that the right thing to do is to temporarily pause all non-voluntary, managed migrations to a digital landline where there is any risk that a customer’s telecare service will not continue to work.”

Virgin Media also reportedly confirmed it had paused its rollout of digital landlines after Secretary Donelan called for the UK’s landline providers to ensure customers’ personal alarms and other services continue to work at all times.

“It is absolutely right that the most vulnerable people in our society should feel safe, secure and have complete confidence in the services provided to them,” Donelan said.

“That’s why I have brought our biggest network providers and industry regulator to the table, agreeing a cast iron set of principles to reassure people and put their minds at ease. The recent issues families have had to endure are unacceptable and today’s agreements will help to protect consumers in future.”

Express.co.uk reported last week on MPs discussing the issue in the House of Commons, where many raised concerns about the old landline switch-off leaving people without means of communication.

“Despite the assurances that we were given by communications operators, we have recently become aware of serious incidents of telecare users finding that their devices have failed when trying to activate them,” Minister for Data and Digital Infrastructure Sir John Whittingdale said at that time. “That is completely unacceptable.”

The UK is currently scheduled to be a completely digital landline nation by December 2025, with the rollout across the country now underway. Some telecoms are having to provide customers with Wi-Fi routers, as all landline customers will need broadband, but not all are currently broadband subscribers.

BT’s Baker said the company would now only switch telecare customers with personal alarms over to a digital landline when they are comfortable.

“We offer these customers free resilience solutions such as battery back-up units and hybrid phones. Customers who are unsure or who have told us that they have a telecare device which isn’t compatible with a digital landline will not be switched until they tell us they’re ready.”

The Government reiterated on Monday that the decision to move the UK’s landlines off the old copper network and onto modern digital systems was not a Government decision or policy, and that all queries customers might have should be put to their telecoms service provider.


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