Are you ready for the big switchover to digital TV or do you face the prospect of blank screens this Christmas? LAURIE STOCKS-MOORE investigates

Switchover day is fast approaching our TV screens but charities for the elderly warn there could be thousands of pensioners in Cheshire staring at blank screens.

On December 2, if you do not have a digital receiver, you will not be able to watch TV as the nights draw in and the Christmas schedules hit the airwaves.

On November 4, TV aerials around Chester had the analogue signal for BBC2 switched off so people could test their TVs. It was a stuttering start for many as some struggled to get to grips with retuning their digital receivers.

Among the three million homes in the Granada region, there are thousands of televisions in lounges, kitchens and bedrooms that are yet to go digital.

Andrew Harrop, head of public policy at Age Concern and Help the Aged, said: “Our main concern is about those older people who haven’t yet bought the technology necessary to ensure a smooth transition to the final digital switchover.

“To help them, Age Concern and Help the Aged have set up Digital Outreach Ltd, a not-for-profit company working on behalf of Digital UK to support the switchover programme.

“Older people watch more TV than any other age group and for many of them the TV is their main form of company. It is therefore essential that the processes leading to the digital switchover cause the least possible disruption.”

The Government is providing a Switchover Help Scheme, available to the over 75s, which gives financial and practical help to convert a TV set to digital.

You will be eligible if you are 75 or over, registered blind or partially sighted, entitled to certain disability allowances, or have lived in a care home for six months or more.

The help will cost £40 unless you receive Pension Credit, Income Support or income-based Job Seekers Allowance.

It will include installation of easy-to-use products in your home, help with installing the products and showing you how to use it and someone you can call for help if you need advice getting used to the new products.

For those not entitled to the Switchover Help Scheme, the Digital Switchover Community Outreach Programme has been set up to help those struggling to adjust to digital.

They can be contacted on 01457 891912.

Chris Cain, spokesman for DigitalUK said: “Switchover is on track and the new digital signals are broadcasting as expected. The vast majority of viewers in the north west have coped with the change successfully.

“However, as with previous switchovers, there may be some people who need a little extra help.

“Viewers who already have Freeview TVs or boxes need to retune at each stage of switchover to receive all available channels. If they don't, they will lose BBC digital channels at stage one and all other channels at stage two as these services move to new frequencies and high power.

“Digital UK recommends people carry out a full retune, sometimes called a 'factory reset' or 'default settings', rather than the basic add channels or automatic search option. Specific help on retuning is available via our helpline and at”

Independent research charity Ricability has been commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to test the latest models of digital TV equipment in order to help viewers choose the kit which is right for them. Development manager, Caroline Jacobs, said: “The switchover to a digital only signal is the single biggest development in the history of television since the advent of colour and we’re committed to ensuring that the process goes as smoothly as possible for viewers in the Granada region.

“Ricability has been commissioned by the Government to provide simple, impartial advice on the latest models of digital TV equipment available, so people are not fazed by all the digital products out there.”

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On December 2 and 3 a Digital UK roadshow will be stationed in front of Chester Town Hall with staff on hand to answer any queries.