The campaign to make online public services free. For everyone

Every day, millions of people across the UK depend on public services that are now delivered online.

From booking NHS appointments and requesting prescriptions, to accessing universal credit and other benefits, from contacting an MP to finding help in a crisis, many of these everyday services exist behind a screen.

Digital platforms have quietly revolutionised how public services are being delivered. And every day, it means a better experience - more information and online services that are easy to fit around our busy lives.

But there are millions of people across the UK who continuously experience data poverty - who simply can't afford to get online. From families with no access in the home, people who rely solely on pay as you go mobile contracts, people who are juggling other utility bills and having to choose between heating and eating. Often the people who rely on public services the most.

Access to these essential services isn't universal. And in the digital age, we need a welfare state update.

ClickZero believes that poverty should never be a barrier to accessing public services in the 21st century. We are calling for all public services online to be free at the point of delivery at all times.


It's called 'zero-rating'. Its simple, proven and every person in the UK has benefited from it since the pandemic.

When you visit a website, the content that loads uses your data. Whether through wi-fi in the home, a monthly contract or a pay-as-you go plan, you pay to access the pages through the use of data.

And just like telephone calls, which can offer 0800 numbers or access to emergency services for free, websites can also make their sites free to access - this is called 'zero-rating'. Its done by the ISP's (internet service providers) or by the mobile operators.

Zero-rating simply changes who shoulders the cost - from you, the 'recipient' to the the 'sender' - from the customer to the provider.

And there's something else. The vast majority of online public services use a tiny amount of data to bring you crucial imformation, a fraction of what it takes to play a few seconds of a Youtube video or Netflix film. The cost to the provider is tiny, the benefit to the millions experiencing data poverty, cut off from the internet, is enormous.

This is why, during the pandemic - the operators agreed to zero-rate the NHS online and went on to zero-rate the NHS covid app.

Why is it important?

One in five families in the UK live in relative poverty. Making difficult or impossible financial decisions every single day. There are over 25 million pay-as-you-go contracts in the UK - used by many as the only way to manage difficult choices on expenditure. 1.8 million families don't have access to a device and connectivity in the home.

For many, there is a very real choice to be made on a day-to-day and week-to-week basis of choosing between data and other immediate costs.

{ClickZero} believes that you shouldn't have to pay through your data to access universal credit, that you should be able to access public health information via the NHS regardless of your data allowance. That if your mobile phone has no credit, you can still access your state pension or contact the emergency social care team in local authorities.

In March 2020, in response to COVID the {ClickZero} team championed the zero-rating of the NHS online. The Telecoms industry and the Government responded. We believe its time to broaden the scope - and make the change permanent and universal.

What would be the impact?

There are at least five major benefits to zero-rating essential online public services

  1. Cost savings to the individual

  2. Cost savings to local and central government

  3. Reliability of access for users

  4. Trust in information online

  5. Safety and safety nets universally available

Any unintended consequences?

Zero-rating could, if misused, lead to unintended consequences. When used outside of public services it can distort competition and erode net neutrality by not treating all web traffic equally. In fact 'zero-rating' of commercial services is a hot topic for big tech. We'll leave them to that debate because our focus is on a different kind of inequality - that so many people can't access the internet on their terms at all.

This is why {ClickZero} is calling specifically for public services to be classified differently and zero-rated with the sole purpose of public and social benefit. See our campaign updates here for how Ofcom are proposing to tackle this issue effectively in 2023