Dodgy contractors and respected industry name companies are once again taking advantage of an ill-conceived and badly implemented Labor Government scheme, with the now-familiar result of taxpayers being rorted, along with vulnerable Australians that the scheme was supposed to assist.
Sources within the antenna industry* report that government contractors are taking advantage of loopholes in the Household Assistance Scheme to qualify for increased government payments, by fraudulently claiming costs for employment of out-of-area workers to conduct installations.
It is alleged that contractors are also taking advantage of insider foreknowledge of the digital TV rollout, by deliberately installing low cost, sub-optimal antennas that are likely to require more costly replacements within 2 years, at the expense of pensioner and disabled recipients of the government scheme.
These reports appear to bear out the warning given by Master Electricians Australia in May 2011, that Labor’s pensioner set-top box scheme would attract unscrupulous contractors:
Master Electricians Australia yesterday said the Household Assistance Scheme, which received $308 million in Tuesday’s budget, threatened to attract ”shonks and shysters chasing a quick buck”, as seen in the disastrous insulation program.
Under the scheme, the government will pay for the installation and supply of digital set-top boxes for pensioners and, where necessary, install antennas to receive digital TV.
Over the past year, the scheme has attracted widespread criticism for poor planning, mismanagement, and cost blowouts:
EVERY set-top box delivered under Labor’s digital TV rollout could be costing the taxpayer an average of $698 — almost double the government’s original estimate, more than 30 times the cost of a box bought at a department store and far more expensive than a new 106cm flatscreen TV.
The scheme, which was initially funded with $69.5 million in the 2009-10 federal budget before receiving a further $309m last year, is aimed at pensioners and the disabled, who the government says are unable to buy and install their own set-top boxes to receive digital TV signals.
Industry sources say that contractors are maximising profits (thus cost to taxpayers) by many different “lurks”, such as offering to install brand new antennas and cabling for customers who already have suitable products installed. In a damning indictment of what appears to be a growing attitude of perceived “entitlement” in our society, it is reported that many pensioners have been only too happy to go along with this rort, with some expressing the view that “It is a government program for pensioners, so if other pensioners are getting one, then it is my right to get a new aerial too”.
Most concerning are reports that contractors are deliberately installing low cost single band antennas in some regions in order to maximise initial profits from the Government, and pave the way for further profits in future. Sources say that some contractors are taking advantage of industry insider knowledge that once the digital TV rollout is completed, “stacking” of channels in regions such as Wollongong will likely result in these cheap single band antennas becoming unsuitable, requiring pensioners to pay for installation of new and more costly multiband antennas at their own expense.
* Your humble blogger has been informed of these rorts by a childhood friend who owns and operates a one-man antenna installation business in the Newcastle region, and is in daily contact with wholesale parts suppliers to regions across Australia.