The campaign to make essential online services free fOR everyone

#ClickZero is a campaign calling for essential online public services to be provided free for everyone.

Online public services support the UK when people are vulnerable, out of work, disadvantaged or in crisis. From the NHS online, to universal credit applications. These are essential services in the digital age - and never more important than now.

Yet data poverty means access to these essential services isn't universal. There are millions of families in the UK who are on the wrong side of the digital divide. Just as an 0800 number or a pre-paid envelope remove costs for the user, 'zero-rating' government digital services, where no data is charged, ensures that this cost is not one of the barriers contributing to digital exclusion.

A welfare state update?

We believe that poverty should never be a barrier to accessing essential public services in the 21st century. We are calling for UK government sites, central and local, to be free to access at all times.

What is zero-rating?

Similar to when you make a telephone call that charges you by minutes, when you visit a website, you pay to access the pages through the use of data - you're charged by the amount of data the site needs to load.

But unlike telephone calls, which can offer 0800 numbers or calling emergency services for free, websites can't make their sites free to access - unless they are 'zero-rated' by the mobile operators or broadband providers.

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

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.

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. This is why #clickzero is calling specifically for central and local government pages to be zero-rated with the sole purpose of public service at this time.