Setting up utilities, phone, TV and internet in the UK
Find out how the connect utilities in the UK and find the best deals and providers for broadband, telephone, mobile and television in the UK.
Setting up utilities, television, telephone, mobile and internet services in the UK is easy with many companies and discount deals to choose from, but finding the packages and providers that cost you less in the long run requires some research into the fine print of what UK utility and telecommunications providers can offer you.
This guide covers:
- UK telecommunications: internet, broadband, TV, landline and mobile
- Broadband packages in the UK
- Mandatory TV licences in the UK
- Landlines and providers in the UK
- Mobile providers in the UK
- UK Post Office telecommunications
- UK utilities: gas, electricity and water
- Gas and electricity comparision tools and UK suppliers
- Understanding your gas and electricity bill
- Setting up with a UK water company
- Setting up home: furnishing and DIY
The British telecommunications sector is competitive with a broad range of internet, telephone, television suppliers in the UK. This has meant great benefits to customers in terms of choice and price. You can choose between getting a landline only, to packages with cable TV and broadband internet included.
The key thing when choosing your supplier is to find one that will save you the most money long-term but also one that ties in with your needs. For example, while a company may offer you ‘free broadband’ with a specific telephone package, you may find another company has a cheaper overall price when not packaging everything together.
Similar to elsewhere, home phone and broadband packages are often combined as they use the same line; it is not often possible to just pay for internet and not a home phone. You can, however, hire a landline with one company and an internet contract with another. Contracts are typically for 12–18 months.
There are larger companies such as BT, Plusnet, TalkTalk, Virgin, and Sky that offer discounted combined packages of television, telephone and internet. For those who only need an internet connection (plus phone), there is a wide range of companies including Vodafone, O2, Tesco broadband, EE and AOL.
If you don't use internet often, you can subscribe to a dial-up internet connection. Although several companies have phased out this service, there are some providers that offer dial-up internet with no subscription costs, where you only pay for what you use. It can, however, restrain certain functions such as streaming or downloading programmes, movies or music, and it will also occupy your landline, meaning you won't be able to make or receive any calls while online.
If you have no need for internet at home, there are many public places with a free WiFi connection, such as pubs, shopping centres, stations, and libraries, to name a few.
You can find the cheapest broadband, telephone and television deals by using a comparision site:
To check the best broadband coverage in your area, Ofcom provides a review of your postcode area.
Speeds vary according to the provider but 16–18Mb is common. Unless this is clearly stated on your package, you will likely get the base internet speed so specify if you need higher speeds.
For faster or fibre optic internet, many companies offer increased broadband speeds through higher tier packages, at around 30–40Mb. Higher speeds of 70–200Mb are available in some areas from providers such as Virgin and Plusnet.
There are many price comparison websites, such as Uswitch, which will give you the best current deals.
Cable TV in the UK is practically the norm and with more than a dozen different providers, the choice is very broad. When choosing a TV channel, check the channels you’ll likely want to watch and choose a package that suits your needs. Several companies tie television in with phone and broadband but it can worth calculating whether you would be better off using different companies for each – the answer can sometimes be surprising.
If you want to have access to very specific channels, you can consider using satellite TV. Admittedly, it is a more expensive option but can be convenient to get certain channels from your country.
If you’re signing up for TV viewing, however, you must remember to apply for a TV licence. If you don’t, the fine you’ll receive will wipe out any savings you might have found on your package. Even if you have a desktop computer, laptop, tablet or games console and want to watch or record live television programmes, you have to get a TV licence. Read more here.
In the past, BT (British Telecom) had a monopoly of the telephone market. While this is no longer the case it is still the leader in the landline phone market. However, unlike in some other European countries with ex-national telecoms providers, you don't have to be with BT to get a landline connection – you can directly subscribe for a contract with one of its many competitors.
Where home phone is concerned, the prices don’t vary greatly between companies; what you will find, however, is that different companies offer varying introductory rates but you need to check which ones gives you the best overall saving once the discount period is finished.
Some of the main UK landline providers are:
Evening and weekend calls are quite often included as an add-on, as well as anytime calls. If you make a lot of international calls, many providers include calls to certain countries for a fixed monthly fee, or discount rates to certain international locations. This can result in significant savings. However, you may find a good broadband connection and cheap call apps, such as Skype, Whatsapp or Viber, would work out more cost effective.
Another option is to use a router company where you dial their special landline number and then your calls are charged at low rates. You can buy international calling cards from many convenience stores. There are also providers that set up a router in your home and charge monthly subscription fees for unlimited international calls.
If you're out and about and want to use the iconic red telephone phone boxes, you will need a phone card but you can buy these in any convenience store.
Almost all the phone providers have mobile phones deals and contracts, and there are many mobile providers to choose from. You can opt for the prepaid option of Pay as you Go (PAYG), where you top up when needed, a SIM only contract if you already have a phone, or a SIM and mobile contract, where the price of the phone is included in your monthly contract fee.
However, before choosing a mobile provider, it is important to check the coverage of your area. You don’t want to get stuck in a contract with a provider that has poor network coverage in the place you choose to live or work. Ofcom’s website is very helpful in this respect.
To sign up for a mobile phone contract, you will typically need proof of address, a bank account and a proof of income (for at least the last three months). If you don't yet have bank statements or utility bills in your name yet, a prepaid phone can be a good option. Prepaid or top-up solutions can also be cost effective if you don't use your mobile too often.
Once you have decided what type of services you are looking for, price comparison sites are a good starting point. You can also visit companies' websites to compare the different options available and the current promotional offers. Most companies will also be able to give you quotes if you visit one of their stores.
Some of the main mobile phone providers include:
All UK post offices are marked by a red sign with yellow font reading ‘Post office' or ‘Royal Mail shop'. Some post offices are located inside shops, such as newsagents or convenient stores, but they all provide mail solutions. You can also get your broadband, phone and mobile services from them and even a bank account, currency exchange, insurances, and licences. For all the different rates you can consult the post office's website.
For mailing, post-boxes are red, and you can find them in all the neighbourhoods, with only one slot. On the box, you can see the weekdays and Saturdays time collection. You can buy stamps from post offices, newsagents and larger supermarkets, or buy postage supplies online.
When you move into a property in the United Kingdom (UK), you will need to make sure the property is connected to UK utilities and set these up in your name as soon as possible to avoid any confusion with payments.
Similar to moving to a new property anywhere, when you move in the UK you will have to make sure your utility readings are set properly. Normally if you move property in the UK, the previous tenant or owner would have given the final readings of the meters to the suppliers, however, it is still important to take start readings and supply these to your British utility companies to ensure your bills are accurate.
If a property has been empty for some time, there’s a good chance some utilities have been disconnected so check if these may need an initial set up with enough time before you arrive in the property.
The UK energy market is privatised, which means there are a lot of competitors and therefore a lot of offers you can choose from. One positive aspect of UK gas and electricity is that because of lots of utility companies offering the same products, the competition drives prices down.
In the UK, gas and electricity are commonly combined, as energy firms offer incentives for providing both utilities and it is also an easier way to do it. Each UK gas and electricity company has their own range of products, although it can get confusing as some offer discounts for signing up for long-term deals, while others offer different tariffs for different levels of usage.
While it can be difficult to calculate the overall cheapest gas and electricty company or package, there are many comparison websites to help you to find the cheapest price. Websites such as Compare the Market, or Go Compare are a good starting point, as they will give you an idea of costs involved.
Some other popular price comparison websites where you can compare gas and electricity prices include:
The market is dominated by the ‘Big Six': British Gas, EDF Energy, E.ON, Npower, Scottish Power and Scottish and Southern Electric (SSE). However, there is also a large number of smaller suppliers which are increasingly attracting customers, such as First Utility, Ecocity, Ebico and Opus Energy, to name a few.
The suppliers that are available will largely depend on your area. However the bigger companies such as British Gas, EDF, Npower and Scottish Power are more commonly found nationwide.
The important thing is to get a quote and understand the fee terms, as options can include fixed rates, capped rates or even prepaid meters. There are also different methods of payment available such as monthly, quarterly or yearly billing, and some of these offer discounts.
Monthly direct debits are the easiest way to budget your money, but it can mean that you end up in credit or debit at the end of a quarter depending on the meter reading, which will result in your monthly repayments being adjusted. It’s best to try and take meter readings monthly so you can check you’re on the best deal.
Water is the one utility that is fixed depending on where you live. There are around 25 water companies across the UK and you’ll have to sign up with the UK water company that covers your location. As the water companies in the UK are regional suppliers, you also can't switch from one to another if you move to another area, meaning you have to create a new account with the supplier of your region.
UK water rates vary but you can choose to have a meter fitted which will mean that you only pay for what you use, or opt for a fixed monthly water rate which doesn’t factor this in. If your house doesn’t have a meter, many companies will fit this for free and even let you change back to a fixed rate if a meter-based billing costs you more over a two-year period.
You can find a list of the water suppliers with the areas they cover on Uswitch.
Part of settling in and feeling at home in a new country is in setting up your new place the way you like it, according to your style and taste – it just helps you feel homier.
Good options for furnishings at a reasonable price are Ikea or Argos. If you need to do any type of work in your house, B&Q is a place where you can find pretty much everything for the DIY works, as well as ScrewFix. For a mix of decoration and DIY, check out Homebase (to become Bunnings Warehouse in the coming years) and The Range.
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