By Kieran Marsh and Amy Kelly

The Federal Government’s $309 million plan to provide pensioners with an installed set-top box has been met with mixed reactions.

Treasurer Wayne Swan says the program will help pensioners make the switch to digital television before the 2013 deadline.

However some pensioners have criticised the plan, saying the money could be better spent alleviating the pressure of growing bills.

Photo: graur razvan ionut /

There are also fears the set-top box scheme could suffer the same fate as the Government’s failed home insulation initiative.

Lynn Barrett from the Australian Pensioners and Superannuants League believes over 55s have greater priorities than a new set-top box for their home.

“We think that the better way to do it is to look at … rebates for things like water, power and basic cost of living things,” she said.

Set-top boxes retail for as little as $30 yet experts claim the Government’s program will cost up to $400 per pensioner.

“I don’t know how the figure’s arrived at,” Ms Barrett said. “And whether it is like with the insulation and the building of the school halls, that somebody is making a massive profit.”

Brian Redican, chief economist at Macquarie Bank, admits there is a chance the scheme could be manipulated.

“Why not just give [pensioners] a cheque for $100 or whatever a set top box costs?” he said.

“There is a risk with the Government doing this kind of spending that the installers actually just soak up the premium and you don’t get a cost effective solution.”

Mr Swan has defended the program, saying he will never apologise for supporting Australian pensioners.

Val French from the advocacy group Older People Speak Out, meanwhile, has welcomed the initiative saying it will provide a major boost for the senior community.

“Quite frankly I think it’s a wonderful idea. It should make a tremendous difference to the lives of a lot of old people,” she said.