Leeds City Council trials free internet for social housing tenants

Grayson Crest in Kirkstall.
Grayson Crest in Kirkstall.
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Social housing tenants at two Leeds tower blocks have been connected to free broadband as part of efforts to combat digital exclusion.

Leeds City Council has partnered with wireless broadband provider 6G to offer the service to 160 flats at Grayson Crest in Kirkstall and Clyde Grange in Armley.

The partnership is part of the council’s 100% Digital Leeds programme aimed at improving digital inclusion and bringing positive outcomes including financial savings, reduced isolation, better employment prospects and improved health and wellbeing.

The council estimates 25 per cent of its 57,000 social housing residences don’t have permanent access to the internet. With those wishing to claim Universal Credit unable to do so without being online, the council is making it a priority to help get its residents connected.

As part of the 14 month trial, 6G’s wireless internet is streamed via radio antenna and offers fiver Mbps broadband residents to log on whenever they want.

Oliver had been searching for a job for three years without an internet connection, two of them while living in his current flat in Grayson Crest.

Four days after he was connected to 6G internet through the council’s 100% Digital Leeds programme, he secured a job he found on Gumtree as a warehouse forklift driver.

“It’s the difference between being on £46 a week benefit and earning a good wage,” said Oliver. “£46 just goes in a day – I couldn’t do anything with my kids. Now I can take them swimming or to the seaside. I’ve started saving money for a better car and I can meet my friends without worrying about money.

“Without an internet connection I was searching for a job by buying newspapers or going to the library. After three years it gets disheartening – you just give up. Phone credit wasn’t cheap – if you want unlimited internet you’re talking £30 a month, so it was even difficult being able to talk to friends on social media. Now I can use my laptop at home. It’s made a big difference.”

Ian Montgomery, tenant engagement manager at Leeds City Council, said: “We know people suffer from a lower quality of life as a result of being unable to access the social, educational, financial, recreational and health benefits of being online.

“By connecting these flats to the internet and supporting people to learn how to use the technology, we are helping residents to find improved deals and save money, apply for jobs, manage finances and maintain contact with family and friends. It also helps the council to be more efficient, as residents are able to access online services to claim benefits, report issues and make payments.”

Chris Baldock, chairman of 6G, said: “We have seen a really positive response from residents of the two tower blocks; about 35% of flats have made use of the free WiFi, which is consistent with Leeds Council’s data regarding the number of residences that don’t have permanent internet access.

“Most broadband connections require a long term contract, credit check and penalty charges for missed payments, which can be prohibitive for people on low incomes. Because we operate a completely wireless network, we don’t need to account for the overheads associated with traditional broadband providers.

“That means we are able to work with councils to connect social housing residences for a one-off fee, with tenants then able to connect to the internet for free or choose to purchase faster broadband speeds on a pay-as-you-go basis. We are also working to help children eligible for free school meals, giving them free access to faster broadband for four hours per day in order to complete homework and socialise.”