BT digital phone revolution that's left thousands of customers fearing for their safety: Homeowners say telecom giant's switch from traditional landlines could leave them isolated, trapped and vulnerable, and forced to switch to broadband they don't want

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Homeowners across Britain have been left fearing for their safety in future after BT confirmed it will pull the plug on traditional landlines for millions of customers.

The telecoms giant said that from 2025, all households and businesses will need an internet connection to make calls, despite fears elderly people could be left at risk.

Landlines are to be run through broadband under its new service Digital Voice, and BT said the next areas to be upgraded are the North West and London this autumn.

The switch has already begun in the East Midlands, Yorkshire and the Humber, and Northern Ireland – while Scotland will move from analogue to digital next summer.

But the shake-up has led to concerns elderly people may not be able to make 999 calls or raise an alarm via health pendants that use the existing telephone system.

BT said it would not yet force the switch on those with healthcare pendants or without internet connections or mobile phones. It said it has been consulting an advisory group, has held 40 events, placed ads and met thousands of customers.

But here, we speak to a series of people in the UK worried about the switchover:


Aaron Comber, 53, of Steyning, West Sussex, is fighting a battle to keep an analogue phone line for his mother, whom he lives with

Aaron Comber, 53, of Steyning, West Sussex, is fighting a battle to keep an analogue phone line for his mother, whom he lives with

Ruth Comber, 75, of Steyning in West Sussex, said she is a widowed state pensioner who is ‘totally reliant on my landline’.

She said: ‘I have a mobile phone, but the reception is so bad where I live it would be quicker to use pigeon post for communication. This switchover fills me with dread.’

Her son Aaron, 53, who lives with his mother, agrees – and is angry about what he perceives as a high-handed manner of the telecoms giant.

The former pub landlord said: ‘It is not just the elderly who are vulnerable – but anyone in a rural area with no mobile reception will be totally stuck in a power cut. This is about putting profits ahead of customers.

‘Those copper lines they strip out will be worth a fortune.’

Last month, Mrs Comber wrote a letter to the Daily Mail about the issue in which she said: ‘During a power cut, my current landline would still work because the exchange has back-up power that feeds to the phone through the line, but a digital replacement would not work. I would be trapped, helpless, in my home.’


Neville Withers, 84, of Acton in West London, is worried about what the switchover will mean for emergency button users like him

Neville Withers, 84, of Acton in West London, is worried about what the switchover will mean for emergency button users like him

Others that will be affected include those with health pendants or who have a home alarm system connected to the local fire service, as these will also often stop working following the switch.

Neville Withers, 84, from Acton in West London, is particularly fearful about what this will mean in the future.

He said: ‘There are thousands like me who are disabled with mobility problems. 

‘I have a button attached to my wrist I can press in an emergency. It is routed through a traditional landline to a care centre.’

The retired TV supervisor added: ‘Fortunately, I have family and friends but, like many millions of others, the digital switch means if the button fails it could be a matter of life and death.’


Retired mental health nurse Trevor Bailey is among the worried Virgin Media customers

Retired mental health nurse Trevor Bailey is among the worried Virgin Media customers

Other telecoms providers involved in the digital rollout include Virgin Media. 

It has five million customers, including retired mental health nurse Trevor Bailey.

The 73-year-old said: ‘I am having my landline moved from an old copper system that works perfectly well to a new fibre optic system I do not want, requiring an adaptor. My provider is Virgin Media.

‘I cannot get hold of it on the phone but get connected to an ‘expert chatbot’. 

‘All I wanted to do was speak to a human being. I shall now be cancelling my contract as soon as it is up.’

Virgin has said that, if necessary, it can provide extra back up lines for vulnerable customers in case of power cuts that come with eight hours back up time.

It also offers technical support up to six months ahead of the change for such customers – with a free engineer visit if needed.


Jackie Carlton, 70, of Kilham in the East Riding of Yorkshire, was told she and husband Allan, 71, would be switching in August.

But they were not given any information about how they could delay the switch because Mrs Carlton could be classified as vulnerable, as she has cancer. 

The retired librarian said: ‘The hospital tried to call me at the end of August to book an appointment, but the landline had been switched to digital voice without my knowledge, so calls did not get through.

‘We live in a rural area with power cuts – seven alone in the past couple of months – and terrible mobile reception.

‘My experience shows just how dangerous this switchover can be – putting the lives of the vulnerable people at risk.’

The predicament faced by the Carltons is far from an isolated incident – and despite BT claims that it ‘won’t be proactively switching’ vulnerable customers, it continues to force the change on millions of homes. The onus to ask for a 12-month delay is on customers.

The change to traditional copper landlines will be rolled out across the UK over the next year

The change to traditional copper landlines will be rolled out across the UK over the next year

It comes as BT ditches a pledge to ensure phone users aged over 70 can keep their landlines and will not be forced on to controversial new digital lines for 12 months — and is signing them up straight away.


Will I need a fast connection?

Internet speeds of just one megabit per second (Mbps) should be enough for a good digital phone service. And every UK household has the right to demand a download speed of at least 10 Mbps.

Will my bills rise?

Customers will have to pay for the internet to use their home phone. But experts have said providers are likely to offer cheap, basic deals similar to landline-only contracts. It is not known if customers with older phones will need to buy a new handset or if they will get one for free. 

BT has said Digital Voice will have no impact on how BT customers use their home phone and will not cost any more than customers pay today.

What if the internet goes down?

If the internet crashes or there is a power cut, digital phone lines will stop working. Those who are vulnerable or do not have a mobile phone should be offered a back-up such as a battery pack, emergency phone line or mobile phone so they can still call 999 in an emergency.

What do I need to do?

Nothing yet. Those on landline-only deals or without the internet will hear from their providers later on.


The telecoms giant shelved its initial rollout last year after an investigation by The Mail on Sunday alerted the industry watchdog Ofcom to operational flaws, including how customers cannot use their phone lines in a power cut.

It was only restarted after an advisory group agreed to allow elderly homeowners the chance to delay installation by 12 months so they could get to grips with the new technology and not feel forced by the move.

Among those involved in this Digital Voice Advisory Group was campaigning organisation for the elderly, Silver Voices. But it now feels tricked — as after agreeing to the deal BT is raising the age from when you can delay installation to 75.

Dennis Reed, director of Silver Voices, said: ‘We were part of that advisory group and agreed not to oppose the resumed rollout as long as those aged 70 were looked after during the change. We have been hoodwinked and BT has broken this pledge.’

Although BT is alerting homes of the change — with cards and letters sent through the post, emails and texts — it is leaving it up to customers to put it on hold.

The new digital phones must be plugged into an electric socket and require a broadband connection to work — using so-called Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology rather than analogue signals on copper lines.

Six million adults do not own a mobile phone and 1.5 million homes do not use the internet.

Digital Voice requires customers to use a new handset — or adapter for old phones — that plugs into an internet and electricity socket. 

If you do not use the internet, BT says it will send out engineers to adapt phone lines for free — and provide a new digital handset and adapter for free.

BT charges £85 for power-pack batteries for those who fear they may be stuck in a power cut — but for vulnerable customers it should provide these for free.

Phone users should not notice a change in sound quality. Over the next two years BT wants to switch 10 million customers to digital. Nationwide, the Government wants all 29 million homes to embrace digital technology.

BT memorably used Maureen Lipman as 'Beattie' to promote landline services in the 1980s

BT memorably used Maureen Lipman as ‘Beattie’ to promote landline services in the 1980s

BT initially agreed it would allow everyone aged 70 or older a chance to delay switching for a year to give customers time to adapt to the technology. Digital Voice is being rollout out region by region. Some two million homes have already switched over. 

READ MORE Is this the end of the landline? BT announces major change for home telephones as it starts to change millions of customers from analogue to a digital broadband service – ten years after radio and TV went the same way. Is YOUR area affected?


In July, it focused on the East Midlands and in August started contacting those in Yorkshire and Humberside, giving them a four-week warning they were next to connect.

Northern Ireland is also being targeted. Homes in the North-West and London are to be contacted this autumn. Customers are initially targeted with emails and texts, along with cards posted through the letterbox. BT is also holding regional town hall meetings.

The telecoms giant confirmed that initially, customers with a healthcare pendant, only use a landline, have no mobile signal or those who have disclosed any additional needs will not be proactively switched. 

Lucy Baker, All-IP director for BT Consumer, said: ‘Through the work with our Digital Voice Advisory Group and our regional engagement, we’ve held 40 events, placed local radio and newspaper ads and met over 4,000 customers in person.

‘We understand that any change can be unsettling, and we’re here to support our customers every step of the way. First-hand experience shows that once people have the facts and have spoken to one of our advisers, they feel confident to make the switch.

‘If we’ve not been in touch or visited your area yet, don’t worry. We’ll be in touch when it’s time to switch. For anyone who has any issues, questions or concerns, then I’d encourage them to get in touch and let us know.’

It is understood that BT customers are contacted at least four weeks in advance before making the switch, to ensure that they are ready to move to Digital Voice. 

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