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Digital Switchover Help Scheme

Volume 495: debated on Monday 29 June 2009

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and I have been made aware that the Digital Switchover Help Scheme (the Help Scheme) has sent out a number of inaccurate letters regarding eligibility for help under the scheme. This was as a result of incorrect or incomplete information provided by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

The Help Scheme is run by the BBC under an agreement with the Government. It offers older and disabled people help to switch one TV to digital during switchover in their region. People are eligible if they:

are aged 75 or over; or

have lived in a care home for six months or more; or

get or could get disability living allowance, mobility supplement, attendance allowance or constant attendance allowance; or

are registered blind or partially sighted.

There are two categories of letters involved: letters sent to people who were not eligible; and letters sent to people informing them that they would have to pay a £40 charge when they were, in fact, entitled to the help for free. The DWP apologises for these mistakes and has informed the Information Commissioners Office. DCMS, DWP and the Help Scheme are working closely to ensure that these errors do not occur again.

Letters sent to people who are ineligible

The first set of letters has offered help to people who are not eligible for the Help Scheme.

Approximately 65,000 people were incorrectly sent a letter telling them that they were eligible for help. Almost all live in the Llandudno postcode area; some are in the Llandrindod Wells area and there may be small numbers in Liverpool, Chester, Newport and Lancaster. The Help Scheme and DWP will today write to around 55,000 ineligible people who have not already applied for help or responded to the original letter. This letter apologises for the error and for any inconvenience that may have been caused.

If someone who received the original letter has already applied for help, they will get help exactly as if they had been eligible in the first place. We believe that this will be fewer than 2,000 people.

The Digital Switchover (Disclosure of Information) Act 2007 allows the DWP to disclose some limited information to the BBC or Eaga, the contractor appointed by the BBC to run the scheme. Such information, however, should only relate to people who are eligible for the Help Scheme.

Letters stating that help was available for £40 instead of for free

It costs £40 to participate in the scheme except where eligible people are also entitled to certain income-related benefits. Unfortunately a second batch of letters has been sent to people stating that they would have to pay £40 to participate in the scheme when they should have been informed that it was available to them for free. These are recipients of the income-related component of the new Employment and Support Allowance which was introduced in October 2008. These people should have been entitled to free help from the scheme and the DWP are urgently working to establish the numbers and names. We believe the numbers affected to be small.

Once the people affected have been identified by DWP, letters will be sent to them apologising for this error and making it clear that they can have assistance under the scheme for free. Anyone who has already participated in the scheme will have their £40 reimbursed as soon as possible.

The DWP has now made the necessary changes to the way in which it identifies people eligible for free help and is confident that this error will not happen again.