Calling all those losing the free phone allowance -- shop around
The axing of subsidy will hit 400,000, including the most vulnerable, but there are options, writes Aideen Sheehan
Almost 400,000 people are facing a massive hike in their phone bills this January after the Government decided to axe the free phone allowance.
Pensioners and carers had been getting a €9.50 a month subsidy towards the costs of keeping in touch -- so their annual bills will soar by €114 a year.
Organisations representing the elderly have reported a flood of calls from people worried about the hike in costs they face.
Active Retirement Ireland (ARI) says it has received many calls from worried pensioners and urged them to shop around and register their dissatisfaction with their local politicians.
While some were considering giving up their landline altogether in favour of a mobile to reduce costs, they should consider very carefully whether that would work, says ARI spokesman Peter Kavanagh.
"We'd love to be able to recommend that they rely on mobiles instead, but poor coverage in some areas and a need for landlines to operate most Senior Alert alarms mean that they're not an option for everyone," he says.
Age Action Ireland says many people were extremely worried about the impact of the cut on already tight budgets.
Spokesman Eamon Timmins urges adult children to assist their parents with shopping around as the plethora of offers and deals bundled with broadband and/or TV services made it highly confusing.
"The reality is many elderly people aren't online which makes it a lot harder to shop around," he says.
Smart Consumer looked at some of the options for elderly people looking to minimise their costs while staying in touch with family, friends, and -- just in case -- emergency services.
The regulator Comreg has a website which allows you compare the cost of different phone and phone/broadband services including many smaller providers.
Eircom has a quarter of a million customers on the free phone allowance who will lose out but it does have cheaper packages available.
The company says its cheapest deal for "vulnerable" customers -- ie those on the free phone allowance who don't make many calls -- is Talktime Control which costs €19.50 per month including €5 worth of free calls.
However, the regulator Comreg puts a cap of 25,000 subscribers on this offer -- already 22,000 people have taken up the offer.
Its best mainstream package is Eircom Talk Weekend for €25 a month, which includes 6,000 minutes of weekend local and national calls. Eircom says that, in general, this was better value than Talktime Control for anyone making more than an hour's worth of calls a month.
It also offers a bundled service of landline, broadband and mobile for €45 a month which includes 150 minutes of mobile calls to any network and 150 texts. Customers can also avail of a new TV service offering around 30 channels for €10 per month.
Digiweb has said it will give elderly people about to lose their phone allowance a free credit for the same amount of €9.50 per month or €114 a year if they switch to them.
The phone and broadband firm has a network covering around half a million phones in Cork, Donegal, Sligo, Dublin, Galway, Laois, Louth, Limerick and Waterford.
Digiweb's Talk Off-Peak package, which includes calls to all national, local, and UK fixed lines in the evenings and weekends, costs €29.47 a month, while their Talk Anytime package with the same free calls available 24/7 is €35.57, but pensioners would get €9.50 a month off these.
The switch can be carried out remotely and you can call them at 1800 285828 to find out if your line is covered.
UPC offers phones for as little as €6.50 per month -- but you have to have a TV or broadband contract with them to avail of it.
Their cheapest monthly deal is €6.50, which is the basic cost before you make any calls, or you could opt for the Anywhere 100 package for €14 a month which includes 100 minutes to landlines, mobiles or selected international destinations or Anywhere 200 which includes 200 minutes for €19 a month.
UPC also offers broadband and phone packages from €37 a month including free offpeak calls and 400 minutes of international calls.
Its TV, broadband and phone packages start from €53 a month, though new customers can get a six-month introductory price of €50 a month.
One concern about the phone allowance cut is that it will make it difficult for those relying on an emergency alarm service operated via their landline.
Irish company Tunstall Emergency Response says it has a new emergency alert system that works via a mobile phone.
This allows people to carry an alarm around their neck which uses a SIM rather than a landline to call for help in the case of an emergency.
This Lifeline Dual mobile system costs €246 per year compared to €344 for their landline system.