The Government’s Building Digital UK team has tweaked the eligibility rules for rural gigabit vouchers in order to balance against the issues caused when parts of the UK are placed under a Public Review as part of the £5bn Project Gigabit programme, which can cause in-scope premises to suddenly become ineligible for vouchers.
The Government are currently conducting a number of Public Reviews across parts of the UK (e.g. the Dorset example), which essentially seeks to confirm which premises are planned (or can already) benefit from gigabit-capable broadband coverage as a result of commercial builds. In short, this helps to identify the poorly served rural areas that may be eligible for public subsidy – either via gigabit vouchers or a larger deployment contract.
NOTE: Once a voucher is issued it remains valid for 12 months from the date of issue. Communities not in the first 3 years of Project Gigabit contract delivery are also now eligible for vouchers.
However, the terms of the £210m UK Gigabit Voucher scheme (part of Project Gigabit), which offers up to £3,500 for businesses and £1,500 for homes to help them get a gigabit-capable connection installed, state that when an area goes into Public Review premises in-scope become ineligible for vouchers.
The rule makes sense as the Government doesn’t want to invest public money where it isn’t needed, but at the same time this does tend to create problems for voucher projects, such as those that may already be in-progress (e.g. increased risk of some vouchers being rejected or suffering from delayed approval). But a new update from BDUK, which has been seen by ISPreview.co.uk, suggests that they’ve recognised this concern and made a change.
NOTE: BDUK now apply tighter checks on voucher project proposals submitted between the start of the Public Review and the final pre-procurement stage. Proposals submitted in this period must be robust, fast-paced and likely to deliver faster than any potential procurement solution.
Admittedly, Public Reviews aren’t the only area causing some disruption for the voucher scheme. Despite being a positive development, Openreach’s recent decision to extend their rural FTTP rollout to reach 6.2 million UK premises by December 2026 has also disrupted a number of voucher projects (i.e. those that might have delivered a similar service, albeit much sooner, in the same areas). Some ISPs thus feel as if their commitment and effort has been undermined.
On top of that, we continue to hear occasional reports from ISPs that have been left waiting months for their voucher projects to receive approval (it should normally be a lot quicker), although the feedback has been sporadic and so it’s currently hard to tell whether these are isolated cases at specific operators or signs of a wider problem. As one provider told us, “they’re still trying to cope with the avalanche of projects submitted back in February, at the closing of the old scheme”.
On the other hand, this sort of disruption was perhaps inevitable. The new voucher scheme inhabits much the same space and focus as the gap funded side of Project Gigabit. Between that, the new commercial builds and recent rule changes (e.g. restricting the focus to Area 3), it can be difficult for smaller ISPs to find the necessary stability to secure their voucher plans.
The Government is providing up to £210m worth of voucher funding as immediate help for people experiencing slow broadband speeds in rural areas. Vouchers worth up to £1,500 for homes and £3,500 for businesses help to cover the costs of installing gigabit broadband to people’s doorsteps.
The government is committed to delivering lightning-fast, reliable gigabit-capable broadband to everyone in the UK as soon as possible, working hard with broadband providers to accelerate their commercial development plans.
For hard to reach areas where broadband is more costly to build, the government is investing £5 billion to ensure places are not left behind.
The rollout to hard to reach areas of the UK will be subsidised by government contracts, awarded to broadband providers over the next few years, until the whole of the UK is connected. The rollout has already begun and you can find out more about it here.
If you and your community are not included in any commercial rollout plans and you do not want to wait for your area to be connected through the Project Gigabit rollout, you can apply for UK Gigabit Vouchers through this scheme.
To apply, you must go through a registered supplier. The checker on this page will direct you to suppliers you can speak to about making an application.
You can find out more about the process on this page.
Home and businesses in rural locations which meet the following criteria can use vouchers to support the cost of installing new gigabit-capable connections when part of a group project.
Group projects are when two or more residents and/or eligible businesses get together to combine their vouchers towards the shared cost of installation. Single connections are not eligible for the scheme. Projects will also be subject to BDUK commercial and value for money assessments.
Your new connection speed must reach:
‘Rural’ is defined using agreed standard measures in the relevant part of the UK. For the gigabit voucher premises in the following areas will be defined as rural.
You can check whether your home or business is eligible on the Get a voucher page. The search will list suppliers that are active in your area. Your chosen supplier will be able to advise and support your eligibility and guide you through the process.
In order to qualify for a business voucher you will be asked to self-certify that you are an Small or Medium size Enterprise (SME), as defined by sections 465 to 467 of the Companies Act 2006 which can be summarised as:
You will be asked to provide evidence of your status as a SME or sole trader.
You will also have to self-certify that the organisation will have received less than 325,000 Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) in public grants over any period of three fiscal years including the current year, including the voucher contribution.
The Special Drawing Rights amount has replaced the €200,000 de minimis grant limit following the UK’s exit from the European Union on the 31st December 2020. The SDR to GBP exchange rate can be found here.
Not-for-profit and charitable undertakings which qualify as SMEs are eligible in the same way that for-profit enterprises are.
Businesses or residents that are eligible for gigabit vouchers can access the scheme through a supplier.
Voucher funding can only be used through a broadband supplier registered to this scheme as part of a broadband upgrade project shared with your neighbours. A supplier may already be developing a project in your area or they may be able to develop a new project if there is enough demand in your community.
They will need to develop a project proposal to connect you and your neighbours, and then request vouchers on your behalf. Funding is only committed when a voucher requested on your behalf has been approved by us, and we have your agreement to our terms and conditions.
The chart below shows the step-by-step process to activate a voucher: