BT Postpones Nationwide Digital Switchover to 2027 Amid Concerns for Vulnerable Customers

BT Postpones Nationwide Digital Switchover to 2027 Amid Concerns for Vulnerable Customers

BT has announced a delay in its plans to transition all landline customers from traditional copper wire phones to digital, internet-based services.

This decision follows extensive campaigning by groups representing vulnerable customers and significant public concern.

The new deadline for the transition has been set for the end of January 2027, extending the original timeline by over a year.

The Original Plan and Public Outcry

Initially, BT and other major telecom providers such as Virgin and Sky aimed to complete the national switchover by the end of the next year.

However, widespread anxiety about the impact on elderly and vulnerable individuals, many of whom rely on landline-based medical and security alarms, prompted a reevaluation of this timeline.

Reports of power cuts and internet outages leaving these individuals isolated underscored the need for a more cautious approach.

Response from Advocacy Groups

Advocacy groups, including Silver Voices, have been vocal in their criticism of the original timeline, labeling it as “ludicrous.”

They argue that the 13-month extension is merely a “token concession” and insufficient to address the complex needs of vulnerable customers.

Dennis Reed, CEO of Silver Voices, emphasized that the extra year is not enough to develop necessary products to ensure emergency communication capabilities during power outages.

BT’s Revised Approach

BT has resumed the rollout of its new digital system but acknowledges that the initial timeline was unrealistic.

The company has begun “non-voluntary” switchovers, prioritizing customers who do not identify as vulnerable or have additional needs.

By the end of 2026, BT aims to provide “future-proof, full fiber broadband” and a new digital phone line to all customers, except those with specific landline-only packages or telecare alarms.

Migrations and Support for Vulnerable Customers

Starting in spring 2025, BT will initiate migrations for vulnerable customers in areas where local councils and telecare firms have shared relevant data.

However, there is uncertainty about how the company will proceed if this data is not fully disclosed.

As of now, only a quarter of local authorities have identified which phone lines are linked to telecare alarms.

To mitigate risks, BT is offering battery-powered phones and hybrid models to customers with additional needs.

Engineering appointments will be arranged to ensure no vulnerable customer is switched without consultation, and an engineer will verify the functionality of telecare alarms during the migration process.

Industry and Government Collaboration

Howard Watson, Chief Security and Networks Officer at BT Group, highlighted the urgency of the transition due to the fragility of the 40-year-old analogue technology.

He stressed the importance of collaboration with local authorities, telecare providers, and government organizations to ensure a safe and smooth transition.

Despite these efforts, Reed from Silver Voices remains critical, pointing out that the industry lacks a clear definition of “vulnerable customer” and has not agreed on who will bear the extra costs of upgrading systems.

Financial Implications for Retirement Homes

The transition also poses significant financial challenges for retirement homes.

The Retirement Housing Group, representing operators of retirement housing in the UK, reported that members face bills running into tens of thousands of pounds to upgrade telecare, fire, and safety alarm systems to be compatible with the new technology.

This has raised concerns about additional costs being passed on to pensioners living in these facilities.

Conclusion

BT’s decision to extend the digital switchover timeline to January 2027 reflects the complexity and sensitivity of transitioning vulnerable customers to new technologies.

While advocacy groups and the public welcome the delay, they continue to call for more comprehensive measures to protect those at risk.

The collaboration between BT, local authorities, and telecare providers will be crucial in ensuring that the transition is carried out safely and effectively, without compromising the well-being of vulnerable individuals.