BT to PAUSE plans to switch off traditional landlines following ‘serious incidents’

a bt digital voice handset is pictured on a sideboard with plants and a lamp

The biggest telecoms brands in the UK, including the likes of BT, Sky, and Virgin Media, have agreed to pause the forced migration of some customers to new digital landlines

Aaron Brown

By Aaron Brown

Published: 18/12/2023

- 15:22

Updated: 18/12/2023

- 17:19

The UK's biggest telecoms providers have agreed to new conditions around nationwide switch to digital landlines

  • Plans to cut off traditional analogue landlines have been paused
  • UK Technology Secretary summoned telecoms brands over “serious incidents”
  • Alarms used by 1.8million people were found to suffer from compatibility issues
  • Unlike copper landlines, broadband-based phones won't work during outages
  • Customers will no longer be pushed to adopt new landline technology

Britain’s biggest telecoms brands have agreed to temporarily suspend plans to switch customers from traditional landlines to a broadband-powered phone network following a number of “serious incidents” involving the failure of personal alarms.

Analogue landlines are scheduled to be switched off nationwide in 2025, with the biggest telecom providers pushing ahead to switch customers in the coming months. However, the process hasn’t been without issues, with some customers losing the phone number they’ve held for 50 years, struggling with compatibility issues with safety equipment, and others left without a connection for days.

Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan summoned the UK’s leading telecoms firms including Sky, BT, Virgin Media 02, and TalkTalk following incidents when telecare devices – personal alarms used by an estimated 1.8 million elderly and vulnerable people and designed to be activated in a health emergency or after a fall – failed because of digital landlines.

The alarm buttons, which are usually worn around the neck or on the wrist, automatically call a response centre when pressed through the wearer’s landline. Operators can then check if a person needs help and send someone if necessary.

While many of these telecare systems are compatible with newer digital landlines, a power cut or internet outage can cause them to fail. In comparison, traditional copper phone lines continue to work even during power cuts.

a man makes a call on a BT digital voice handset in a busy kitchen

BT has already turned off analogue landlines for 2 million customers nationwide, transitioning them over to its broadband-powered "Digital Voice" system


Ms Donelan announced several new measures to protect vulnerable customers agreed by brands like BT, Virgin Media O2, TalkTalk and Sky during the meeting. She explained: “It is absolutely right that the most vulnerable people in our society should feel safe, secure and have complete confidence in the services provided to them.

“That’s why I have brought our biggest network providers and industry regulator to the table, agreeing a cast-iron set of principles to reassure people and put their minds at ease. The recent issues families have had to endure are unacceptable and today’s agreements will help to protect consumers in future.”

Following the intervention from the Government, broadband and phone suppliers will need to carry out extra checks on those who have already been forcibly migrated to ensure they do not have telecare devices the provider was unaware of, and if they do, to ensure suitable support is provided.

Nobody with a personal alarm will be migrated to digital landline services without the provider, customer, or telecare company confirming they have a compatible and functioning telecare solution in place, the UK Government has announced.

Providers will also be required to provide backup solutions that go beyond Ofcom’s minimum of one hour of continued, uninterrupted access to emergency services in the event of a power outage.

Telecoms minister Sir John Whittingdale said: “These commitments are a promise to the most vulnerable people in our society – we will leave no stone unturned in making your safety and security the number one priority for our telephone providers.

“When people need help, they should have every confidence that the services provided to them will get them the assistance they need, and I am clear that recent failings must never happen again.”

All UK phone and broadband providers are forging ahead with plans to upgrade millions of people from traditional copper phone lines to digital landlines ahead of the nationwide switch-off in 2025. BT, which is the single biggest provider in the UK, has branded its broadband-powered landline as Digital Voice.

When switching to the system, BT promises clearer calls and better protection from fraud and spam calls.

If you already have a full-fibre broadband plan with BT, nothing will change as the company has offered Digital Voice to fibre customers as standard for many years. BT stopped selling copper-based products to all new customers back in September.

If you're unsure whether you're already using the newer system, the easiest way to check whether you're already using the new system is to look for "Digital Voice" branding on the handset or check whether it's plugged into the back of your Wi-Fi router or a landline socket.

3 wireless BT Digital Voice handsets on a white background

Three Digital Voice handsets from BT, the proprietary system created by the brand to offer VoIP calls to customers after copper landlines are retired in 2025


According to BT, there are 2 million customers across the UK using Digital Voice to make and receive calls. The areas where BT has already completed the switch to Digital Voice as as follows...

  • Wiltshire
  • Suffolk
  • East Midlands
  • Yorkshire
  • The Humber
  • Northern Ireland

The next areas of the UK set to be switched from traditional landlines are...

  • North West – Autumn 2023
  • West Midlands – Spring 2024
  • South East – Spring 2024
  • Wales – Spring 2024
  • South West – Summer 2024
  • Greater London –Autumn 2023
  • East Anglia – Spring 2024
  • North East – Summer 2024
  • Scotland – Summer 2024

If you live in one of these areas and haven't heard from BT yet - chances are, they'll be in touch very soon. BT says it aims to contact people at least four weeks before the deadline for the switch.

“For almost everyone, moving to Digital Voice will be a simple and free transition with no home installation work required,” said Vicky Hicks, Senior Engagement Manager at BT. “If you feel you need additional support with the transition or you think you are vulnerable, please do tell us. We will be with you every step of the way.”

Why are analogue landlines being changed across the UK?

Telecom providers, like BT, are switching customers away from traditional analogue landlines to a new digital alternative. Since 1911, copper wire has been the backbone of connectivity across the UK – but its time is finally over.

Openreach, which manages the broadband and phone infrastructure across the UK, will switch off the copper cable network in 2025. The switch was kickstarted because copper landlines were deemed no longer fit for purpose.

That's because broadband-powered VoIP offers clearer quality calls, but it's a change driven by the general shift across the industry. The majority of phone manufacturers and suppliers now produce digital-only equipment, which will not work with traditional copper landlines. Without these upgrades, customers could order a home phone online and find it incompatible with their BT landline.

BT customers over the age of 70 are not proactively switched to Digital Voice, the company has reassured. But since July 2023, BT has started to trial switching customers aged between 70-74 who live in urban areas and have the latest broadband hub and don't regularly make landline calls. According to BT, these trials have gone well to date, with 98% of customers choosing to make the switch.

Key Facts About The Switch From Old Landlines

  • It's not just BT, with all UK landline providers moving away from analogue landlines
  • The new technology relies on an entirely digital VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) system
  • VoIP is used to power WhatsApp, FaceTime, and Facebook Messenger audio calls
  • Only BT uses the branding 'Digital Voice', with others launching their own equivalents
  • Your landline number will not be changed during the switchover
  • BT plans to complete its switch nationwide by mid-2024
  • The traditional copper landline network will stop working in 2025
  • Existing broadband customers won't be charged extra after the switch
  • Traditional landlines continue to work during a power cut as they draw power from the exchange
  • But VoIP systems will not work during outages without a backup power bank

What Happens During A Power Cut?

This is one area where the new VoIP landline system stumbles compared to its copper-powered predecessor. Traditional landlines can continue to work even if there's a power outage as the telephone line draws its power from the nearest exchange, which has a backup to keep people connected.

If you've ever tried to stream a show, send a message on WhatsApp, or search on Google during a power outage - you'll be aware that the same is not true of broadband infrastructure.

BT is offering to send a battery pack to some of its most vulnerable customers, which will enable them to continue to make and receive calls during a power cut. If you have previously disclosed additional needs to BT, then make sure that you are sent a battery during the switchover process.

If you're not eligible for a complimentary battery pack from BT, then these are available to purchase from a host of high street and online retailers.

Additional Reporting By Josie Clarke, PA Consumer Affairs Correspondent

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