Go Digital Bath Trial

The forthcoming digital radio switchover will be supported by a help scheme – but who needs support, and how much do they need?

The ‘Go Digital’ trial in Bath attempted to answer these questions, but WaveLength is unconvinced that people will get the support they need.

You probably know that 2012 saw the big switchover from analogue TV to digital in the UK. Millions of people had to buy new equipment in order to access the new service, and WaveLength CEO Tim Leech sat on the Consumer Expert Group (CEG) committee, set up to guide the Government on a digital switchover issue including Help Scheme for vulnerable people.

When 50% of radio listening switches to digital, and digital coverage is decreed as good as FM, a similar switchover will take place with radio services. At the moment the CEG is working to produce recommendations showing which people will be ‘disproportionately disadvantaged’ by a switch to radio, and so will need a Help Scheme when the switchover happens.

WaveLength is dedicated to helping the most vulnerable and isolated members of society. We support the transition to digital radio, as it could offer greater choice and accessibility to our beneficiaries. However, it’s crucial that an adequate Help Scheme helps vulnerable people make the switch, and stay in touch with the outside world. Participants in a recent short-term Go Digital trial in Bath, which lent vulnerable people digital radios, spoke unambiguously about their need for radio. “It’s like a trusted friend,” said one isolated person; a sentiment we constantly hear from our beneficiaries.

Nearly 40% of vulnerable people included in the Go Digital trial found it difficult to set up their new digital radios, and 19% found it difficult to use them once set up. This figure increased for certain groups; e.g., 25% of elderly women found it hard to use. As a result, 40% of vulnerable people say they will not choose to buy a digital radio set unless they have to. There are still serious problems with digital radio accessibility.

What’s more, the Go Digital trial participants were very limited: only blind people, those over 75, and those who needed support on a daily basis (i.e. residential support) were trialled. This misses out a lot of people.


WaveLength believes two key factors should contribute to Help Scheme eligibility: ability to pay for a new digital radio, and ability to access the written word. People who struggle with the written word have greater reliance on radio as an auditory information source. They also face more difficulty with new purchase decisions due to reading information inaccurately. Currently the Government is not including literacy in Help Scheme criteria, and didn’t collect data on literacy in the Go Digital Bath trial – even though 59% of vulnerable participants said they couldn’t understand the written and on-screen instructions.

Radio switchover will have more impact on people living on limited incomes than the TV switchover did, as neither a licence nor a fixed address is needed for a radio, making it an invaluable accessible information and communication tool for many, in particular:

  • homeless people/ rough sleepers;
  • refuge residents who are fleeing domestic violence;
  • young people leaving care;
  • refugees and asylum seekers;
  • people with specific and non-specific learning difficulties;
  • people moving in and out of hospital due to poor mental health and/ or chronic illness;
  • the prison population.

The Government says it is ‘committed to (looking at) the full range of human factor issues’ to determine who will most need help. However many groups of vulnerable people were not included in the latest Go Digital trial in Bath. Lost access to radio for some of these groups could leave Government falling short of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which identifies communication and access to information as human rights.

More research needs to be done on the needs of the groups above. Currently, data is not collected on the needs of all elderly and disabled radio users, nor those whose situations make accessible radio crucial. Notably, no data is available on those who do not have a fixed home address.

The TV Help Scheme helped those aged 75 and over, those in receipt of certain disability-related benefits, registered blind or partially sighted, or who had lived in a care home for six months or more. These people need to keep access to radio. However, those already helped by the TV Help Scheme already have access to digital radio stations through their digital TVs. this has been shown to be particle helpful to blind people in the Go Digital Bath trial.

How can we include people?

The CEG has already recommended that eligibility for a radio Help Scheme should not simply replicate that for the TV Help Scheme. Some 10.5 million people would be eligible for help under these criteria, but a further 11.8 million people would be left out, especially those unable to work with the written word. WaveLength believes Government needs to adopt wider criteria, including:

  • using pension credits and tax credits to identify people on low incomes;
  • establishing a register of disabled people similar to the one which exists for the blind and partially-sighted;
  • using Access to Work records, covering five year periods;
  • using educational and medical assessments and statements as evidence of impairment or lack of access to the written word;
  • using local authority records to identify young people leaving care;
  • providing help through organisations such as homelessness shelters, hostels or women’s refuges;
  • working with NHS trusts, including mental health trusts, and those which track dementia;
  • working with organisations already providing radios to vulnerable people.

How To Help

We need to establish a fair and ethical system to identify those who need help, and who are less financially able to convert their listening to digital. That’s why WaveLength is placing importance on comprehensive means-testing, including prioritising help for those who don’t already have access to a device capable of accessing digital radio.

We think that equipment up to a certain set value should be made available to eligible people. In addition an extended, enhanced range should be made available through retailers, suppliers and charities, purchasable through a top-up scheme allowing individuals to upgrade basic equipment using their own funds, following the model used by the NHS to provide wheelchairs.