With the BBC beginning to phase out its SD channels on Freesat, a help scheme has been launched to support affected viewers. The “Eligibility Checker” tool, which is now live, allows customers to obtain a discount voucher for a new Freesat box – or even qualify for free installation assistance.
In 2023, the BBC started to finally roll-out BBC One’s local news in HD across the country and on all devices. In light of that, the BBC has also started a gradual, multi-phased process of removing the SD versions of all their channels from both Freesat and Sky.
Therefore, when the BBC’s SD channels shut down in 2024, viewers with older boxes won’t be able to watch any of the BBC’s channels anymore, and they would need a new device.
When the BBC first announced that its SD channels were going to shut down on Freesat and Sky, they also promised a help scheme for people who need extra support, to ensure “no one gets left behind” (check who’s eligible below).
While Sky already issued their help scheme for people with older boxes, with a free Sky Q upgrade, the BBC’s help scheme was delayed – until now.
This week, the BBC’s “Eligibility Checker” tool finally went live – and people can check – and then sign up – for the help scheme, which can entitle them to a discount voucher for a new Freesat box.
In some cases, vulnerable people will also be eligible for a home visit, where a qualified engineer will install the new Freesat box at no extra cost.
Why Are The BBC SD Channels Going Away?
In January 2023, the BBC started to finally roll-out local programming on BBC One and BBC Two in HD.
During the first phase, SD-only satellite viewers started to lose their local programming on BBC One and BBC Two, on a region-by-region basis.
Therefore, affected users were automatically switched to a single pan-UK version of each of these channels, getting special versions of BBC One and BBC Two that don’t feature any local or Nations programmes, such as the regional news programmes on BBC Breakfast or Reporting Scotland on BBC One.
Instead, users see a notification message on their TVs.
In Phase II – by the end of March 2024, the BBC will be closing all SD channel feeds on satellite – so anybody that hasn’t upgraded to satellite HD by that time will lose access to all BBC TV channels.
If you haven’t upgraded to HD-enabled satellite equipment by then, you will also lose access to all BBC radio channels on Sky and Freesat.
Note that this doesn’t affect Freeview viewers – where the BBC’s HD regional news programmes have rolled out, but the SD channels are also staying put for now.
How Do I Know If I’m Affected By The SD Shutdown?
The change only affects older SD-Only Freesat (or Sky) devices. Freesat viewers who are not sure what type of set-top box or TV they have, can use the BBC’s checking tool, which is now live on Channel 799 on Freesat.
On that channel, you will see one of two messages:
- Good News, you’re not affected and can continue to use your box as normal.
- Sorry, your satellite set-top box is not capable of receiving high definition services. You will be affected by the satellite changes.
How Can I Continue To Watch The BBC?
If you are affected by this change – that is, your current Freesat box only supports SD – you will need to get a new box (assuming you want to continue watching Freesat).
You have to get the new box before March 2024 – otherwise, you will lose access to the BBC’s channels on your TV.
If you’re on Freesat, you can buy one of the newer 4K Freesat boxes, that also have streaming apps like BBC iPlayer and ITVX.
Those boxes aren’t cheap, unfortunately – the non-recording 4K Box costs £145, and the recording box starts at £229.99.
There’s also a cheaper, more basic, Freesat box – the Manhattan SX – which doesn’t have recording capabilities or any streaming apps. It typically costs £69.
What Help Can I Get For A New Freesat Box?
Some vulnerable viewers – those aged over 75 and/or those in receipt of one of a small number of particular benefits – are eligible for assistance.
If eligible, they will be able to get a £40 voucher (via e-mail) to use towards the purchase of a new Freesat box – either the 4K version, or the Manhattan SX.
Subject to a financial hardship test, some viewers may be eligible for a voucher to cover the full cost of a replacement Freesat box to enable continued reception of BBC channels – but this voucher can only be redeemed on the cheaper Manhattan SX device.
Furthermore, vulnerable viewers who are not able to install the box by themselves, may be eligible for a Home Visit.
An engineer will then visit their house (with a new HD-enabled set-top box), install it for them, ensure it’s working before they leave, and give some guidance on how to use it.
According to the BBC, the engineers are experienced, have an ID badge and are all DBS-checked.
It’s important to note that these home visits are only meant to help with the installation of the Freesat box inside the house – the BBC does not offer help with installing (or fixing) the satellite dishes themselves, as viewers are expected to already have those.
Am I Eligible For A Freesat Box Discount Or Home Visit?
Those who are eligible for further help through the HD Satellite Upgrade scheme will need to meet the following requirements:
- Watching services on the primary television in their home via an SD-only satellite set-top box
- Are over 75 or are in receipt of one of the following benefits: Personal Independence Payments (PIPs); Attendance Allowance, or War Pensioner’s Mobility Support.
The BBC says that exceptions to the eligibility criteria may be made: for example, “where a viewer with mobility issues relies on a secondary set”.
These will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
Freesat HD Upgrade Eligibility Tool
This week, the BBC finally launched its “Eligibility Checker“, where viewers can answer a series of questions that will help them check whether they’re eligible for the voucher or not.
As part of the eligibility checking process, viewers will need to confirm they watch TV via Freesat (as Sky subscribers are offered other types of help), and that they have a valid TV Licence, as “The help scheme is being supported by the BBC and only active/current TV licence fee holders are eligible for assistance”.
It’s worth noting that some pensioners – those who are eligible for pension credit – can still get a free TV Licence.
If, by the end of the questionnaire, you’re found eligible for the Freesat help scheme – the discount voucher will be sent to you by e-mail with further instructions.
For more information, you can check the BBC’s HD Upgrade information site, or call the helpline at 0330 123 1876.
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