IF you're homeschooling your kids through lockdown, you'll probably find that you're using a lot more data than you would normally.
Data can be expensive, and going over your limits when your children are in class or you're at work can be stressful, not to mention costly.
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Fortunately, WiFi and data providers including BT, Virgin Media, O2, EE and Three are all offering free extras to help you get by.
Here's the full list of providers, what's on offer and how to claim:
BT Mobile, EE and Plusnet Mobile
- Unlimited data
From the end of January until July 31, hard-up customers using BT Mobile or EE can get unlimited data to help with homeschooling at no extra cost.
This means that parents who don't have a WiFi connection will be able to dial their children into lessons without spending a fortune.
Eligible families without fixed connectivity at home can apply via their school or local authority.
- WiFi Vouchers
If you're not a BT or EE mobile customer and you don't have WiFi either, you can still apply for BT's free WiFi vounchers.
These allow you to connect to BT hotspots for remote learning and you get them via the school. If your school is not offering the vouchers, it needs to apply for the scheme via bt.com.
- Zero rating for BBC Bitesize
BT and the BBC have announced plans to zero rate BBC Bitesize for all EE, BT Mobile, and Plusnet Mobile customers, while schools remain closed.
Top tips on how to stay connected
BELOW are some tips from Ofcom on how to stay connected during the coronavirus crisis.
- Use your landline or wifi calls:More people are making calls on their mobile network during the day, so you may find you get a more reliable connection using your landline or by turning on "wifi calling" in your settings.
- Move your router clear of other devices: Keep your router as far away as possible from other devices, such as cordless phones, baby monitors, TVs and monitors, as they can all affect your wifi if they’re too close to your router. Also, place your router on a table or shelf rather than on the floor, and keep it switched on.
- Lower the demands on your connection: The more devices attached to your wifi, the lower the speed you get. Devices like tablets and smartphones often work in the background, so try switching wifi reception off on these when you’re not using them.
- Try wired rather than wireless:For the best broadband speeds, use an Ethernet cable to connect your computer directly to your router rather than using wifi.
- Plug your router directly into your main phone socket:Where possible, try not to use a telephone extension lead, as these can cause interference which could lower your speed.
- Test the speed on your broadband line: You can run a speed test using Ofcom’s official mobile and broadband checker. If possible, carry out tests over a few days and at different times of day.
- Get advice from your broadband provider: If your connection isn’t working as well as it should, you can find advice on your broadband provider’s website. If you need to contact them for help, keep in mind that because of coronavirus some companies have fewer people to help with your queries.
This means that time spent on BBC Bitesize will not eat into your data allowance. This change will be applied automatically so you don't need to do anything.
BT is also in talks with Oak Academy to offer free access to Oak National content.
The phone provider has also asked the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish administrations to each suggest one online resource for school children. It plans to zero-rate the chosen website to help families outside of England.
- Low-income tariffs
Looking beyond lockdown, BT also offers a social tariff for low income families.
BT Basic costs just a £10 per month for broadband and phone line service with a priority connection.
BT has removed all of its broadband caps, so none of its customers will have to deal with data limits on top of the pandemic.
The caps were removed on home broadband plans back in March 2020 so every customer has unlimited WiFi at home.
- Additional free data
Virgin Media is offering 20GB in extra free data to families that are struggling.
To be eligible for the scheme you need to:
- Not have fixed broadband at home
- Not be able to afford additional data for devices
- Be experiencing disruption to face-to-face education.
The additional data is administered through schools. That means your school, trust or council needs to have requested support on your behalf from the Department for Education.
If you think you qualify but haven't heard anything, speak to your child's teacher or the school administration.
Money saving tips for parents
BECOMING a parent can be expensive so to help you out, we’ve put together six top tips to cut costs, nab freebies and to make sure you’re not fined.
- Free prescriptions and dental care – Prescriptions cost £8.60 a pop in England, while NHS dental costs vary by location. You can get both for free while you're pregnant and for 12 months after your baby's due date. Ask your doctor or midwife for a maternity exemption certificate (MATEX) to claim the free care.
- Free milk, infant formula, vitamins or fruit and veg – Under the Healthy Start programme, you may be entitled to the freebies if you're at least 10 weeks pregnant or you have a child under four and you're on certain benefits, such as Universal Credit.
- £500 free grant – In England, Northern Ireland and Wales you may be entitled to a Sure Start grant of £500 if you're on certain benefits and expecting your first child or expecting more than one baby – such as twins.To claim, you need to fill out the following form on Gov.uk and get your doctor or midwife to sign it.
- Register the birth in time or face a £200 fine – You need to register the birth within 42 days of your baby being born with your local registry office. This costs £11 in England and Wales.
- Update a will or update it – If you don't have a will, in England, Northern Ireland and Scotland, where one parent dies, children will only inherit cash if the estate is worth more than £250,000 – otherwise all the money will go to the surviving spouse. If you don't want that to happen, you need to get a will stating your wishes.
- Consider getting life insurance – No-one likes to think about death but if something happened to you, could the family survive without your salary? If not, you many want to consider life insurance. Use a comparison service to find not only the cheapest, but the most suitable cover for your needs.
- Zero-rated resources
Virgin Media customers do not have to pay for data when it's used to access the Oak National Academy, a website with thousands of free lessons and resources.
- Free educational programming
Virgin is also offering some of its TV channels for free – specifically those broadcasting factual shows.
Channels include Animal Planet, Crime+Investigation, Discovery Science, Eurospot and Sky History.
How to save on your mobile phone bill
NOT happy with your current mobile phone deal?
If you’re outside the minimum term of your contract then you won't need to pay a cancellation fee – and you might be able to find a cheaper deal elsewhere.
But don't just switch contracts because the price is cheaper than what you're currently paying.
Take a look at how many minutes and texts, as well as how much data you're using, to find out which deal is best for you.
For example, if you're a heavy internet user it's worth finding a deal that accomodates this so you don't end up spending extra on bundles or add-ons each month.
Also note that if you're still in your contract period, you might be charged an exit fee.
Ready to look elsewhere? Pay-as-you-go deals are better for people who don’t regularly use their phone, while monthly contracts usually work out cheaper for those who do.
It's worth using comparison websites, such as MoneySupermarket and uSwitch.com, to compare tarrifs and phone prices.
Billmonitor also matches buyers to the best pay-monthly deal based on their previous three months of bills.
It only works if you’re a customer of EE, O2, Three, Vodafone or Tesco Mobile and you’ll need to log in with your online account details.
There's also MobilePhoneChecker,which has a bill monitoring feature that recommends a tariff based on your monthly usage.
If you’re happy with your provider then it might be worth using your research to haggle a better deal.
- Free additional data
O2 is participating in the Department for Education free data scheme for home learning, offering families who are struggling with connectivity 40GB of free data.
The scheme can be accessed via schools, who can apply on behalf of parents.
- Zero-rated resources
Since the start of the pandemic O2 has zero-rated 34 websites many of which are dedicated to mental health, financial advice and emergency support. You can view the full list here.
The free sites include Hungry Little Minds and the free school meal voucher site. O2 is also planning on adding Oak National Academy to the list.
Three is providing unlimited data upgrades to disadvantaged school children in England.
The upgrades are available for Three customers on Pay as You Go or any contract, and will be applied until the end of the school year in July.
- Free data
Last year, Vodafone offered free SIM cards with 30GB of data to schools and colleges for disadvantaged students. These SIM cards are now entering circulation and starting to be used.
Vodafone has also signed for the Department for Education scheme, but there is no news so far about what the phone provider's plans are.
- Great British Tech Appeal
Vodafone has also partnered with the children's charity Barnardo's to launch the great Tech appeal.
The scheme encourages people to donate old devices such as phones and tablets, so they can be gifted to young children in need. As part of the scheme, Vodafone also provides six months of unlimited free data.
Virgin Media to give struggling families 20GB free mobile data to help with home schooling.
Schools will be shut until the February half-term due to the third national lockdown in England.
School children from low-income families will also continue to get free meals during the third lockdown in England.
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