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SimPal is a charity that works to ensure that families affected by ‘cancer poverty’ are able to stay in touch digitally without worrying about the cost.

They support many vulnerable people who struggle financially to access hardware such as phones and tablets. This includes people in a range of different circumstances, including the homeless, people where English is not their first language, and some in care.

Recipe status

This recipe has been in use since January 2017.

We are not sharing this recipe as the perfect solution to a problem, but we believe SimPal’s learnings could be very useful to other organisations.

Users and needs served

  • As a service user, I need to stay in touch with my family, friends, and hospital
  • As a service user, I need my hospital to be able to stay in touch with me
  • As a service user, I need to use the internet to stay in touch and complete documents online
  • As a service user, I don’t have the money to run a mobile phone, so need support in doing so
  • As a service user, I need mobile communication to stop me feeling isolated

Software and tools used

Smartphones and tablets

SimPal provides free mobiles, SIMs, and tablets to people who are digitally excluded.


Mobile phones, along with tablets and SIMs, vary in price depending on the model or market.

In this case, the charity provided phones that were not expensive – usually costing around £40–£50.

The market does change frequently, though, and while tablets seemed too expensive when the recipe was introduced in 2017, the price has been dropping in recent times and many tablets are now more affordable.


Mobile phones will be the cheapest and most effective option for enabling users to connect with people and the internet, as they provide a ‘two for the price of one’ service when fitted with a SIM that allows the internet.

You’ll need to consider individual user needs when choosing what hardware to provide them with.

Recipe steps

1. Establish a partnership

It’s difficult and complex to try and distribute free tech to the people that need it.

You need to be able to fulfil certain criteria and must have a good knowledge of related services, so partnering with a charity, agency, or organisation that specialises in this work can help to overcome any pitfalls you may not be aware of.

2. Make a list of what you want to fulfil

If you’re working in partnership or appointing a team within your charity to carry out this service, set clear goals of what you want to achieve, who you are going to offer this service to, and how you’ll do it. Having clear instructions for a partner or team within your charity can ensure that your project meets your users’ and your charity’s needs.

3. Get to know the user

Figure out where the differences lie among each user. You should consider age and how other aspects of their demographic may impact the needs they have. You also want to consider what life situation they are in. For example, are they in full-time education, homeless, terminally ill, and how will this drive their day-to-day interactions with tech? You need to assess the backgrounds and needs of every user so the tech you're delivering works for them.

4. Make things easy

Provide basic information about the tech you are sending to your user through the post.

Alongside this guide-like letter, include information about who they can contact if something isn’t working. Make sure that your communication with the user is accessible – for example use large fonts if you know they are visually impaired. If you are aware that the user may not be able to physically set up the phone, for example by putting the SIM in, do this before sending out the tech.

Try and limit forms and processes that drag on as much as possible. Some of your users may have terminal illnesses where their need is immediate. You don’t want to overwhelm your user, so getting them connected should be made as easy as possible.

5. Keep in touch

Once you’ve provided the user with the tech they need, check to see if they are regularly using their device. If there doesn’t seem to be any regular use, you can check in with them to see if they’re encountering any problems.


Make it as easy as possible and simple for your users. You have to put yourself in the shoes of the person who is using your service. They don’t want too much paperwork or to have to wait six months to get a phone, because for some, this might be too long.

This also applies after you provide the user with tech. They may not want to fill in long forms about what your charity could have done better.


The biggest challenge is to finance this work. It does cost a lot of money to provide hardware to those in need, and there will always be a regular stream of people who need this service. Furthermore, it can be difficult to rely on sporadic funding.

Advertising your service can mean you end up with an overwhelming amount of requests to get access to hardware.

Some might abuse the technology, for example making frequent calls outside of the UK, which is not factored into their allowance. Mitigate this by enabling a way to track if these abuses occur and cut their service when this happens.

Points of contact

For further information about this recipe, you can contact:

Chris Lewis


Many thanks to SimPal for contributing this recipe.


This recipe is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence.

That means you are free to copy, redistribute, and build on the text of this recipe, but only for non-commercial purposes (if you want to use it for commercial purposes, get in touch with us at [email protected]). You must give credit to both Catalyst and SimPal and link back to this page. If you build on this recipe then you must share your version under this same licence.

Recipe published on April 16th, 2021. Last updated August 6th, 2021