People facing language and communication barriers need more support to help access public services

25 Apr 2018 - 1:30pm

Public bodies need to put in place effective interpretation and translation services to ensure equal access for all 

Public bodies can do more to help people who face language and communication barriers access the services they need. This is the conclusion of a report published today.

The report ’Speak my language’ summarises relevant legislation and policy, and looks at how public bodies make their services accessible to people who face language and communication barriers. The report looks in particular at councils and health services. It focuses on interpretation and translation services for people who are Deaf and use sign language, and people who do not speak English or Welsh as their main language.

Public bodies differ in how well they understand the language and communication needs of the communities they serve. However, the report found examples where public bodies are trying to find new ways of working, to help overcome language barriers for people who do not speak English or Welsh as a first language.

The Wales Interpretation and Translation Service (WITS) was set up in 2009. It provides a 24/7 service, available to any public body in Wales. Currently 30 organisations are partners in WITS which gives them a say in how the service is managed. Recently WITS has had to address some governance and management issues and concerns about aspects of its service provision. Cardiff Council has hosted WITS since July 2017. Public bodies also use interpreters from private companies and third-sector organisations. Some also employ interpreters. It is not clear how much public bodies spend on interpretation and translation services in total. However, public bodies spent £2.2 million through WITS in 2016-17.

The report points to a number of challenges for the provision of interpretation and translation services. The Wales Audit Office has developed a checklist of issues to consider when planning how to meet the needs of people who do not speak English or Welsh. The checklist covers five areas ‘understanding the communications needs of the local population’, ‘policies and procedures’, ‘sourcing interpretation and translation services’, ‘training for staff’ and ‘providing information to service users’.

The report recommends that public bodies review how they make services accessible to people who face language or communication barriers using the checklist. It recommends that the Welsh Government consider widening the scope and coverage of relevant standards that currently apply to the NHS in Wales. It also recommends that the Welsh Government should work with public bodies, representative groups and others to consider issues relating to the supply of interpreters in Wales and quality assurance and safeguarding procedures.

Assistant Auditor General, Anthony Barrett said today:

“Public services need to ensure that everyone can access them, whatever their language or communication need. While there is some innovative practice across Wales, it is clear that public bodies can do more to consider and respond to the needs of those who face language and communication barriers. The checklist we have developed can help public bodies in doing this, and the case studies we have highlighted provide examples that they can learn from.”