BT becomes the first company to scrap the ‘ridiculous’ deadline for switching to landlines

BT has scrapped its timetable to move all landline customers from traditional copper wired phones to digital, internet-based services, after months of campaigning by groups representing vulnerable customers and MailOnline.

In a long-awaited move, the group, which is also responsible for EE customers, has abandoned the sector’s previous schedule to complete the national switchover by the end of next year.

Following national concerns about the impact of the switch on elderly and vulnerable customers, many of whom rely on medical or security alarms via landlines, the telecoms giant has now said it aims to complete the transition by the end of January 2027.

BT and other leading telecoms providers such as Virgin and Sky were previously forced to pause the rollout of new digital systems after multiple cases of vulnerable people becoming isolated and unable to call for help in the event of a power outage or internet outage.

Campaign group for Britain’s older people Silver Voices told MailOnline that the previous timetable was ‘ridiculous’ – and that this 13-month extension is nothing more than a ‘token concession’.

Now BT has told MailOnline it is restarting the rollout of the new system, but has accepted the original timeline is not sustainable – and admitted it is already making ‘involuntary’ switches.

This is when the switch from the old copper network to a new broadband connection would take place across the UK – this has now been abolished
BT has unveiled a new support package for vulnerable customers, whose landlines won’t be changed until 2025

It has not yet been confirmed whether other telecom companies will follow suit.

BT says ‘future-proof, full fiber broadband’ and a new digital phone line will be available to all customers by the end of 2026, except those with landline only, those with telehealth alarms and customers with additional needs.

It says all customers will have switched from copper wire to digital by the end of January 2027.

The company said it plans to ramp up “non-voluntary migrations for customers who do not identify as vulnerable or have additional needs” this summer.

From spring 2025, it will begin migrations for customers who are vulnerable in local areas where data about these customers has been shared by telehealth companies and municipalities.

It is unclear what will happen if companies and local authorities do not share the data with BT. The company admits that only a quarter have so far declared which phone lines are linked to telehealth alarms (personal health alarms).

This customer base is especially at risk because, unlike traditional copper-wired landlines, digital services will shut down completely in the event of a power outage or internet outage.

Dennis Reed, CEO of Silver Voices, said: “We view this announcement by the telecoms industry as a symbolic concession designed to move the controversy past the general election.

‘It is not possible to develop the necessary products in this extra year to fully protect vulnerable customers if they have to make an emergency call in the event of a power outage.

‘The industry has not even defined what a vulnerable customer is, and has no idea where many of them live. The government has also not reached an agreement with the industry on who will pay for the additional modernization costs.

BT now says all customers will have switched from copper wire to digital by the end of January 2027

“This program is in shambles and the Government must pull together to ensure the lives of vulnerable customers are not at risk.”

MailOnline revealed earlier this year that it would take months for the government to reach an agreement with telecoms companies deemed a ‘vulnerable’ customer – and it is unclear whether this definition has been agreed as migrations resume.

It is understood that BT is offering battery-powered phones and hybrid models to all customers with ‘extra needs’ to ensure they can continue to call for help if there is a power or internet outage.

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The company is arranging technical appointments with all these customers and says no vulnerable customer will be switched without speaking to an advisor.

It also says that an engineer will personally ensure that the telehealth alarms – used by an estimated 1.8 million people in Britain – will be functional on the day customers are migrated to a digital system, and that the migration will be reversed if not.

Howard Watson, Chief Security and Networks Officer, BT Group, said: ‘The urgency to move customers to digital services is growing every day as the 40-year-old analogue landline technology becomes increasingly vulnerable.

‘Managing customer migrations from analogue to digital as quickly and smoothly as possible, while making the necessary provision for customers with additional needs, including telehealth users, is critical.

‘Our priority remains doing this safely and the work we do with our colleagues, local authorities, telehealth providers and key government organizations is vital. But more needs to be done and we need all local authorities and telehealth providers to share with us the phone lines where they know there is a telehealth user.”

As migrations resume, retirees living in retirement homes could face additional bills costing them hundreds of pounds as providers face having to upgrade telehealth, fire and security alarm systems.

Industry body the Retirement Housing Group, which represents care home operators in Britain, said earlier this month that its members are facing bills running into tens of thousands of pounds to replace outdated systems with ones compatible with the new technology.

It comes after a petition organized by Silver Voices and the Digital Poverty Alliance for the Government to review the current timetable attracted more than 11,000 signatures.

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