Digital switch scheme criticised

The scheme has been criticised because Sky have an unfair advantage when it was handed the contract to be the digital switchover help scheme’s ';standard offer' for the ITV Border region, the first part of the UK to go digital. For the first two months after installing its set-top boxes, Sky provides free access to the personal recorder service Sky+ and to some pay channels. Then, after that time, customers are left to decide whether to continue receiving these services, which would require a subscription.

“The Department for Culture, Media and Sport agreement that governs the help scheme urgently has to be reviewed,” said Leen Petre, chair of the government-appointed consumer expert group on digital switchover. “The help scheme should not open the floodgates for marketing practices and advertising of additional products or services to older and disabled consumers which can leave them stressed and confused.”

The scheme is being funded with £603m of BBC licence fee money and entitles over-75s and disabled people to have a set-top box installed for a one-off fee of £40 or, if they’re on benefits, for free.

“It is inappropriate for the scheme to select as standard such a confusing commercial deal, when it is geared to encourage vulnerable customers to opt for a potentially confusing or costly installation,” said Danny Churchill, the joint chairman of the Digital Television Supply Chain Group (SCG), which represents manufacturers, retailers and aerial installers.

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