MSE News

Free data for disadvantaged families in England to help school kids learn – from EE, O2, Three and Vodafone etc. How it works

Families in England who can't afford to get online may be able to get free data for the next few months from many mobile providers to help kids learn at home. However, it's a voluntary scheme so not all providers are taking part, plus there is a cap to the help on offer, so don't hang about if you qualify.

Some firms even offer unlimited data to eligible families. The key points of the Department for Education's "Get Help With Tech" scheme are:

Families in England with kids in years 3-11 (ie, mainly aged 7-16) qualify if...

  • The child/children are experiencing disruption to face-to-face education (which most clearly are right now)
  • They can't afford to have fixed broadband at home, nor additional mobile data

Do I have to prove I can't afford broadband/mobile data? The Government says it won't ask schools to show evidence when they submit applications on your behalf (which is the process – see below), so you're unlikely to be asked for proof either, but please don't abuse the system or you could be depriving those in genuine need.

Some families with kids in other school years in England may also qualify if...

  • They meet the criteria above, AND
  • Have been advised to shield because they (or someone they live with) are clinically extremely vulnerable, or they have a child attending a hospital school

Which mobile firms are providing free data for eligible families, and how much data are they giving?

Unfortunately, children face a lottery depending on whether they or their parent or guardian's mobile provider is taking part, or the type of contract they have. This has prompted criticism from some, including Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh, who first alerted to this issue.

She told us: "It can't be right that a child's education is determined by which mobile network they are on. It's time for all providers to step up."

Help for disadvantaged kids in England from mobile firms

Provider Help offered under Government scheme
Asda Mobile N/A
EE Free unlimited data for pay-monthly and PAYG users
Giffgaff N/A
Lebara Mobile No response
O2 Free unlimited data for pay-monthly and PAYG users
Plusnet N/A
Sky Mobile Free one-off 100GB extra data for pay-monthly users only
Smarty Free unlimited data for pay-monthly and PAYG users
Tesco Mobile Free 20GB/mth extra data for pay-monthly users only
Three Free unlimited data for pay-monthly and PAYG users
Virgin Free 20GB/mth extra data for pay-monthly users only
Vodafone Free unlimited data for pay-monthly and some PAYG users (i)

(i) Vodafone PAYG users must be on a 'Big Value Bundle' worth £10 or more or to participate.

Any free data should last till July

The scheme officially lasts till the end of July and the participating mobile providers – EE, O2, Sky Mobile, Smarty, Tesco, Three, Virgin Mobile and Vodafone – have all confirmed it will definitely run until 31 July 2021. 

The support on offer is capped, so don't hang about if you qualify

Go quick if you want to take advantage. A Department for Education spokesperson told us: "The support is not open-ended and some providers will have a maximum number of requests they can support. We are continuing to work closely with providers to monitor uptake to ensure that children relying on data can benefit from this offer."

You need to apply via the school, not the mobile network

Anyone in an eligible household can apply. The process works as follows:

  1. You apply via the school. You give the account holder's name, number and network. The school then passes your application to the Department for Education, which passes it to the mobile firm.
  2. The mobile account holder gets a text once accepted. How long that takes can vary by providers. We've asked for guidance on whether this is likely to take days or weeks.

Is there other help available for those in England who don't qualify for this scheme?

There are other types of help available:

  • If increasing mobile data is not a suitable option for some children, or if a request for additional data is unsuccessful, schools can also request 4G wireless routers from the Department for Education for households – although bear in mind the eligibility criteria for these is slightly different.

  • If you or your child don't qualify for the Get Help With Tech scheme, it's worth asking your mobile provider directly if there's any other assistance you might be able to get. EE and Plusnet, for example, don't charge for data if you're using the BBC Bitesize educational website, while there's no data charge for O2 users on several sites, including Hungry Little Minds and the free school meal voucher site. Giffgaff, meanwhile, runs a hardship fund offering free minutes, texts or data to those who need it, which can include students.

What about elsewhere across the UK?

In Northern Ireland, free Wi-Fi and mobile connectivity is provided to children and young people who may not have access to digital technology during lockdown. Schools run this scheme, so contact your child's school for more information.

In Wales, the Welsh Government has committed up to £3 million to support "digitally excluded" children in maintained schools where there is no existing provision in place from their school or local authority. Parents and carers should contact their child's school to establish what support is available, while schools should contact their local authority if they have not been contacted already.

We've asked the Scottish Government what support is available for pupils in Scotland, and will update this story when we hear back.

How do I get on the best mobile contract to begin with?

This article is about taking advantage of free help towards the cost of data charges, but if you've already got a mobile contract, ensure you're on the best deal by using our Cheap Mobile Finder tool, which compares pay monthly and pay-as-you-go (PAYG) plans. You can get also further assistance in our Mobile Phones guides.

MSE weekly email

FREE weekly MoneySaving email

For all the latest deals, guides and loopholes simply sign up today – it's spam-free!