Cheap train tickets and public-health advice to be broadcast on new government WhatsApp channel

Communications initiative is intended to ‘amplify’ key information for the public, and enable government to reach those it might not otherwise be able, with updates on services, programmes and benefits

The government has unveiled a new WhatsApp channel through which it will send people information public-health advice, information on citizen services – and opportunities to buy cheap train tickets.

From this week, members of the public can opt in to receive messages from the broadcast-only channel. Among the first communications sent via the new initiative was a message broadcast yesterday advising citizens that they can take advantage of discounted train tickets via the Great British Rail Sale promotion.

From now on, the channel will send messages on at least a weekly basis, covering topics such as public-health campaigns like the rollout of winter flu jabs, and reminders about deadlines for filing tax returns or other official documents.

WhatsApp will also be used to communicate details of new services or benefits, including the likes of one-off cost-of-living payments or enhanced childcare support.

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The government clarified that the new channel will operate entirely separately from the emergency alerts service used last year – which will be used to send SMS messages warning the public of extreme weather or other emergencies. All relevant information will also continue to be published on GOV.UK, with the intention being that the new channel “will help amplify information… [and] help reach more members of the public who might not otherwise receive government updates”.

All WhatsApp messages will come from the UK Government or public bodies, such as the UK Health Security Agency.

Alex Burghart, the Cabinet Office minister with responsibility for the Government Communications Service, said: “We are always looking for new ways to communicate with the public. WhatsApp is a hugely popular platform in the UK so we hope our new and entirely opt-in WhatsApp channel will be a useful way of providing people with updates from the government. We’re looking forward to seeing how people respond to this service and will develop it over time based on users’ feedback.”

WhatsApp is owned by Meta – which also operates Facebook.

Sam Trendall

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