Consumer: Tuning in to a cheaper digital deal

Phil Munroe.
Phil Munroe.
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The BBC Switchover Help Scheme was set up to keep vulnerable viewers in the picture. But it is not always the best way to go digital, learns Sophie Hazan.

when Phil Munroe heard that there was a scheme dedicated to helping the elderly and vulnerable survive the switch to digital television he was smitten.

The freelance cartoonist, who lives in Horsforth, Leeds, had been concerned about how he was going to explain the digital switchover to his 83-year-old mother-in-law Dorothy Hinton, who has dementia.

So he consulted the BBC Switchover Help Scheme, which was set up to serve older and more vulnerable people, to find out the best way for his in-law to ‘go digital’.

The clincher was that a technical expert would deliver, install and tune the equipment at Mrs Hinton’s home.

With her family’s help Mrs Hinton opted to buy a 26 inch Panasonic LCD screen set with built-in Freeview digital television from the Switchover Help Scheme and sent a cheque for £405.

But far from receiving a smooth service from the help scheme, she experienced three months worth of disappointments and delays which forced her daughter and son-in-law to finally cancel the order and get her money refunded.

Essentially, the scheme had run out of television sets but did not tell the family who on two separate occasions were left waiting in for delivery of a product that did not exist.

Mr Munroe had no choice but to take on the job himself, and ordered a similar LCD television online at Amazon for almost half the price.

To his surprise the set arrived within two days, and was easy to install.

Mr Munroe is delighted to have saved money, but concerned that the Help Scheme could be failing others.

He said: “It could be that elderly people do not have anyone to call in to help them out, and they don’t have access to a computer to order from Amazon, in which case they would really rely on the BBC scheme to do what it says on the tin.”

Consumerwatch approached bosses at the BBC Switchover Help Scheme to find out if there is a problem with stock levels.

A spokeswoman said that while the scheme has helped more than 750,000 customers since it started in 2007, in April of this year the Switchover Help Scheme had made the decision to withdraw digital TV sets.

She blamed the fact that the retail price of similar televisions had dropped rapidly in recent months, and it was not possible to provide them at comparable prices.

The representative issued an apology on behalf of the scheme for “the poor service” that Mrs Hinton received.

She said: “We should have better communicated with her and provided information on the other options available.

“The service Mrs Hinton received fell short of the standards we set ourselves and we usually meet.”

The Switchover Help Scheme was created to provide a personal and tailored service to ensure the country’s most vulnerable people are not left behind when analogue television is switched off.

And it is available to people aged over 75, anyone in receipt of disability benefits, the blind or partially sighted and people who have lived in a care home for at least six months.

For most people living in Leeds the switch will happen in two stages with BBC Two going digital on September 7, and all other channels switching over on September 21.

Mr Munroe added: “Mrs Hinton has been recently widowed, is virtually housebound and suffers from early stages of dementia.

“The TV is something of a lifeline for her and we decided, after viewing the frequent TV ads and reading the promotional literature, that applying to the Switchover Help Scheme was a great way to ensure an easy and successful transition for her when switchover time comes later in the year.”

But for Mrs Hinton, it was not.

Too much screen time playing games and watching videos on mobile phones and child iPads is feared to be a major factor in the decline in the ability of young children to talk effectively or hold a conversation

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