Controversial Lyca supports English ‘free data for children’

Controversial Lyca supports English ‘free data for children’ scheme

10 February 2021 | Alan Burkitt-Gray

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Virtual network operator Lycamobile says it is offering UK customers free data to support their children learning from home.

The company is working with the Department for Education, the government department responsible for schools and universities in England, to give parents at extra 20GB of data a month until the end of July.

Allirajah Subaskaran, founder and chairman of the Lyca Group said: “I am proud to personally spearhead Lycamobile’s support programme in partnership with the UK Government. By ensuring that children have access to the connectivity and educational resources they need, we hope to lift some of the burden from struggling families across the country.”

He added: “As a parent, I understand how vital education is to children’s success and happiness. The pandemic has caused so many problems for families around the world, and we feel it is our duty to do what we can to support them.”

However, Lycamobile’s PR agency, Hawthorn Advisers, did not answer Capacity’s questions about whether the scheme would be extended to pupils in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, all parts of the UK that have separate educational administrations.

Companies involved in the scheme “do not receive any funding from the Government for this initiative”, said Hawthorn.

Hawthorn also refused to answer a number of other questions from Capacity. In particular, Lyca has been one of the biggest financial donors to the ruling Conservative Party, and it supported Boris Johnson — the Conservative who is now UK prime minister — when he was seeking re-election as mayor of London in 2012.

In 2015 Johnson attended the launch of LycaHealth, the operator’s private London clinic, with Subaskaran and other Lyca executives.

Since then Lyca has been said to owe £60 million in tax to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), the UK’s tax collection agency.

In 2018 HMRC was also reported to be blocking a request from French prosecutors who were investigating money laundering allegations against Lyca. Those date back to 2015, when Buzzfeed News reported that French authorities arrested 19 people in Paris and charged nine of them, including Lycamobile’s general manager in France. The allegations were then reported in other UK media, including the normally Conservative-supporting Daily Mail

In response to questions about those allegations, Lyca’s agency, Hawthorn Advisers, told Capacity: “Lycamobile does not have any further comment at this time.”