Five magic words to say to BT if you DON’T want to switch to a digital landline

BT has become the first telecoms company to scrap a ‘ridiculous’ timetable that would have seen the country’s old landlines replaced with digital phone lines by December 2025. The timeline for completing the transition has been pushed back to the end of January 2027.

Other companies, including Virgin Media and O2, are expected to follow suit. Money Mail explains everything you need to know about BT’s decision and what steps you need to take if you don’t want a digital line installed.

Why has the digital deadline been canceled?

BT has agreed that more time is needed to ensure that customers deemed vulnerable will not be forced to use the new technology until they are ready.

The previous timetable was described as ‘ridiculous’ by Silver Voices, a campaign group for British older people.

Up to two million customers rely on Telecare alarm systems: emergency buttons that, when pressed, call the emergency services via a landline and that have not yet been adapted to digital lines. The telecom giant is giving companies more time to solve this problem.

BT is ripping out traditional analogue copper telephone lines and laying internet cables

The Achilles heel of digital telephone line systems is that you must plug the equipment into an electrical outlet for it to work. This means that in the event of a power outage, you may not be able to answer the phone and call emergency services in the event of a crisis.

For vulnerable people, this could mean the loss of a vital lifeline. BT has gadgets that can help, such as battery backups, but more time is needed to ensure the switch doesn’t put people at risk.

Why do I need a digital line?

BT is ripping out traditional analogue copper phone lines and replacing them with internet cables – saying the old lines are becoming worn out and too expensive to repair. Many homes are already connected to the Internet with fiber optic cables, and there is plenty of room on the lines to adapt the technology to use them for phone calls.

You keep exactly the same telephone number as before. But instead of using an analog signal for phone calls, a technology known as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) allows you to communicate over a broadband Internet connection. The sound quality should not differ much and the line rental costs will not change.

What can I do to avoid it?

Let BT know that you are a vulnerable customer and therefore do not want a digital telephone line. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean this will never happen, but it could delay the transition by a few years.

Don’t let the telecom giant force you into submission early. If you don’t feel ready, tell them because the deadline extension has bought you time.

How can I prove that I am vulnerable?

According to BT, no proof is needed. Initially anyone aged 70 or over could be classified as vulnerable, but this arbitrary age has been removed and you can now be considered vulnerable at any age. If you are claiming disability benefits, have mental health problems or are confused or worried about the transition, this should be enough to call yourself vulnerable.

Even if you live in a remote area where there may be power outages or no cell reception, you could still be considered vulnerable.

It is up to you to explain that you are vulnerable, otherwise you could be pushed into making an early transition against your will.

Contact BT on 0330 1234 150.

You will initially be greeted by an automated telephone service, but you will have to speak to a real person to explain that you are vulnerable. To do this, press ‘one’, ‘one’ again and then ‘five’.

Simply say: ‘I am a vulnerable customer’ and explain why you do not want to switch.

What should I do if I don’t use the internet?

You are a special case. BT has admitted that this select group of 1.5 million people who do not have an internet connection can continue to use their old landlines until 2030 if they live in an area without fiber optic cable connections.

In the meantime, BT says it will work to expand its fiber network over the coming years and will send engineers to install cable access to all homes.

How do I know if I’m being switched?

Expect a letter or postcard in the mail about a month before a proposed transfer. You may also receive a text message or email. BT’s hard sell can make it seem like you have no choice.

Look for messages such as “Your home phone service is being upgraded. We will contact you shortly to discuss these changes with you.’

You will then be offered a free adapter worth €20 before you switch. Plug this into a wall socket and plug your existing telephone into the back of the adapter. It has an external signal that communicates with your internet hub as WiFi, so you can make calls using your old phone.

You will also be given a date on which the transfer will take place, unless you cancel by saying that you are vulnerable. After the switch, your old landline will no longer work.

I don’t want to say I’m vulnerable

BT says that if you don’t want to switch or admit you’re vulnerable, you should consider canceling your landline or moving to another provider (although this could only delay your switch to digital).

In total, all 29 million homes will go digital following pilot projects in the East Midlands

In total, all 29 million homes will go digital following pilot projects in the East Midlands

But regulator Ofcom says providers have a duty not to disconnect customers from their lines until they have ‘engaged with them’. So if you refuse to respond to correspondence – whether it’s a letter, phone call, text, email or even a knock on the door – you should be able to keep your old phone line.

This is easier said than done. It will become increasingly difficult to ignore such correspondence as the rollout will target all customers in the coming years.

What if I have a Telecare alarm?

In theory, you shouldn’t switch until the technology is adapted to work – so there’s no reason to worry.

Contact your healthcare provider, such as Telecare, and ask when you expect to switch. Home alarm systems that are connected to the emergency services may also no longer work without adjustment. Contact your alarm provider to discuss the change and whether your security system needs to be adjusted.

What if there is a power outage?

In the event of a power outage, your phone line will stop working, but as long as you have a fully charged cell phone and signal, this doesn’t have to be a disaster.

However, for those living in remote areas prone to power cuts or without mobile reception, BT is selling an £85 battery backup pack.

An alternative is an £80 hybrid phone, which switches to working as a mobile phone if the landline goes down. Tell BT you are vulnerable and they should send these gadgets for free. Be persistent and explain that you need help.

You also have a good case for having an engineer visit so they can install equipment and show you how it works.

Should I buy a new phone?

BT says 99 percent of old phones will work if the Digital Voice service is connected to an adapter. But if you fancy a new phone, a BT Essential Digital Home Phone costs £30, which you can connect to an internet connection without needing an adapter.

The digital phones have a free ‘1571’ voicemail service, but if you already have an answering machine and want to continue using it, you may want to continue with an adapter.

You can also connect your old phone to a modern BT hub. Check the back of your hub. If there is a removable black sticker on it, peel it off and underneath you should find a green, traditional telephone jack into which you can plug the handset. If you have an older hub, ask BT for a new one.

When will it affect me?

You may already be one of the millions who have made the switch. In total, all 29 million homes are going digital. Following previous trials, BT started offering digital lines in the East Midlands last July.

Yorkshire and the Humber were targeted in August, while Northern Ireland signed up in September. Last autumn, London and the North West began to switch sides. The rollout was put on the brakes in December after a number of ‘serious incidents’ where it emerged that non-BT telecare systems were not ready for the digital switch.

BT has put its regional rollout plan on hold for the time being, saying its primary focus this year is on homes with a traditional line that have not been used in the past 12 months.

Following this, it is expected to take on previous expansion plans later this year by targeting Wales, other parts of South East England, West Midlands, the North East, South East and East Anglia as well as Scotland.

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