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English or Welsh 'fluency duty’ to come into effect for public authorities

17 August 2016

Part 7 of the Immigration Act 2016 will soon bring into force a “Code of Practice on the English language requirement for public sector workers” meaning that public authorities (this includes the NHS and local government) will have a duty to ensure that their staff and agency workers in a customer facing role can fluently speak English or Welsh.

Depending on the worker’s specific role a different standard of proficiency may be required but it must be “sufficient to enable effective performance of their role.” The standard will depend on the frequency, duration, use of technical language and topic that the individual has to speak English or Welsh in.

There is no confirmed date for this Code of Practice to come into force as yet but it is expected to be October 2016. The duty does not currently extend to voluntary or private sector providers of public services, so private health and social care providers will be excluded for the time being, but there is provision to expand to these sectors in the future.

In view of this code coming into force imminently, public authorities should review their HR policies and procedures and also consider providing training to their staff in order to meet the standards. A complaints procedure must be operated for members of the public if they feel a member of staff does not have the required proficiency levels. However, public authorities must not forget their duties under the Equality Act 2010 when applying the code. More detailed guidance can be found on the government website here.

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