Independent Review of MoJ Interpreting Services Contract

An independent review is being carried out of the MoJ’s dire interpreting contract with Capita. Hopefully this spells this end of the contract which has supposedly saved millions. If there was ever a full cost benefit analysis, it would show it has wasted much more than the purported savings.

The survey invite has been sent to ASLI, NRCPD, NUPIT and NRPSI as the high-profile organisations who represent interpreters in the UK. It is not clear from the invite if the Association of Lipspeakers or any Deaf professionals working in the justice system have been invited to comment (see letter below for contact details). Anecdotally many Deaf people have told of the decrease of interpreter provision and quality although many experienced court interpreters are still working when they can get the terms and conditions they are used to.

Please do fill out the survey if you have worked in court or experienced the MoJ’s interpreting contract on the ground. We look forward to the results and whether this will change anything.


Dear Madam/Sir,

Matrix, an independent consultancy, has been tasked by the Ministry of Justice to carry out an ‘Independent Review of Quality Assessment within MoJ Language Services Framework’.

This project is a review of the quality of interpretation and translation services provided in the justice sector under the MoJ Language Services Framework. To this end, Matrix seeks to gather evidence of and stakeholder input on the current state of play regarding the quality of interpretation and translation in the justice system, the relevant quality / experience requirements for interpreters / translators and current procedures for monitoring, evaluating and maintaining the quality of interpretation and translation. In this context, we are targeting all interpreters working in the UK justice system.

We would therefore highly appreciate it if you could fill in an online questionnaire, indicating your perceptions and views, by accessing the following link:

Filling in the questionnaire should not take longer than 15 minutes. The survey will be open until Friday, 11th April 2014. All results will be anonymised for the final report.

Thank you very much in advance for your input and time.

In case you have any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact us on

Aurélie Heetman

London | Brussels | Washington DC
1st Floor | Kemp House | 152-160 City Road | London | EC1V 2NP
d: +44 (0) 20 7553 4803 t: +44 (0) 20 7553 4800
e: w:

Profit over equality? Another outsourced contract fails

Atos, the company awarded work capability assessments has terminated its contract early and agreed financial settlement with the DWP. If you were on benefits due to long-term illness, you had to have your back to work assessment by this company.

For Deaf people, Atos created additional barriers to these work assessments, as they did for disabled people.

Before you could even get an assessment you had to phone a number to book an appointment. There were no alternative means of communication. Not even through a dusty old textphone.

It’s medical assessors, not trained doctors, were known for testing Deafness by asking people to turn around and shouting at them to see if they were Deaf.

Interpreters used for these appointments were rarely qualified or registered.

An outsourcing nightmare bites the dust. If only the same would happen with the MoJ contract for interpreting.

If only government contracts had stipulated within them the needs for equality over profit.

If only contracts would be monitored to check that what big companies say they will do, actually happens.

If only.

PSA accreditation: It has nothing to do with the medical model

PSAThe NRCPD has sought answers from the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) as to whether they could apply as a voluntary register to be accredited. We still have no clear answer but is this really a move towards what some perceive as aligning interpreting to a medical model?

Our history as an emerging profession of Sign Language Interpreters has lead us from the DWEB (Deaf Welfare Examination Board) interpreters to CACDPs first register in the 1980s which mostly consisted of those already working with Deaf people – social workers and Teachers of the Deaf. In the late 1980s funding was sourced and the Citi Services course became the first training course for interpreters. We were moving away from the helper model towards a more professional route into interpreting.

At the same time models of Deafness went from the medical model to social model i.e. there is nothing wrong with the individual that needs to be treated but rather that it is society that causes barriers. Then to a cultural model in which Deaf people have their own culture and language.

If only the government saw Deaf people that way. What we have had since 2010 is an tidal wave of outsourcing of interpreting services which has seen the lowest bidder win contracts across all sectors. This has been especially bad with cash strapped hospitals, mental health trusts and primary care services. Many NRCPD registered interpreters can no longer get any medical bookings now. Many Deaf people are not provided with registered interpreters when attending appointments. The examples of interpreters being used are few and far between. Just see the Our Health in Your Hands work for surveys and, for real life examples, the BSL Act Spit the Dummy campaign. Contract holders often send BSL users to hospitals to interpret who then tell Deaf people they left their yellow badge at home (the NRCPD one).

Outsourcing contracts to providers who are able to get away with not using registered personnel is going back in time and it goes against the government’s health and social care agenda. The only antidote to this is to ensure that all medical services book a NRCPD Registered Interpreter for Deaf people at their appointments. We know the damage it does if they do not. See the RNID’s A Simple Cure report, the TEA report. See the current work by OHIYH. See SignHealth’s long awaited Sick of It report, launching soon.

To ensure only NRCPD Registered Interpreters are used in medical settings is not going back to a time when the medical model is the prevailing paradigm. Sign Language Interpreters will not have to change their behaviour whilst interpreting nor will they be recognised as only being used for appointments. It is merely a step towards providers only being allowed to book Registered Interpreters rather than the situation now where Deaf people sign consent without knowledge of what they sign, struggle to understand how to take medication, their diagnoses, their prognosis and any treatments prescribed.

Whether PSA accreditation will actually get us a step closer to statutory regulation is unknown. Yet. PSA takes responsibility for both overseeing statutory regulators as well as voluntary registers. It requires registers to undertake audits, to make themselves more fit for purpose. The PSA can only improve the NRCPD and strengthen our position in getting ourselves seen as professionals and ensuring Deaf people have appropriate access. At medical appointments.

We will still work in the media, in courts, at police stations, at art galleries, at wedding and funerals, in work places, at conferences and anywhere else that Deaf people are present and want to gain access in a culturally appropriate way, in sign language. Let’s not confuse models of deafness with one of the areas in which we work. Or used to. With some work by the register we may well work in medical settings once more.

Tories Limit Access to Work

Sayce reportThe Sayce report stated the value of Access to Work (AtW) to Deaf and disabled people and the value to the economy of more people in work. Yet this is another area the Conservatives are attacking with cuts.

We have another move by government that will see interpreters again being undervalued, under-respected and underemployed. So far in the area of work that is publicly funded we have seen that Deaf people rarely get a registered, trained interpreter for any medical appointments. The next area to be hit was the courts and police stations. Were it not for work done by ASLI at the time we would have level 3 British Sign Language holders attempting to interpret legal jargon in courts or maybe even worse. Still, the way in which interpreter provision has proceeded via a monopoly contract has meant that problems have still occurred, fees are being squeezed and as a result less experienced interpreters are working in court. Now we have AtW as the next area hit by the latest round of cuts to Deaf people and interpreters.

The 38 degrees campaign continues. The BDA is doing some excellent work. Their report is available from their website. The only criticism of the report is that it states that interpreters will not take full time salaried jobs. Following on from the AtW policy that Deaf people with over 30 hours provision must seek a salaried interpreter and those that can not must take a rate cut equivalent to a salaried interpreter (less than half of a freelance rate, worse if you have been sourcing via an agency). It is not that interpreters will not, it is that many can not. Many interpreters do take salaried positions but those that do not have their reasons. We are a profession with many part time workers, many women, some of whom are mothers. We need variety, contact with many Deaf people, in many areas of work to maintain our skills in processing. It is an unworkable policy for many interpreters as well as Deaf people who prefer that variety, prefer to have two interpreters for some meetings and time when they do not have an interpreter present. Many DWP staff were claiming this policy had been created in consultation with ASLI. That was refuted by ASLI and DWP have since agreed and sent a message to all their advisors asking them not to make these claims.

Aside from interpreters, if Deaf people are expected to employ interpreters that comes with additional responsibility outside of their ordinary work that they should not be expected to bear. DWP have stated that on costs of employment are to be paid by AtW but that is not the reality on the ground. What employer is going to employ a Deaf person if they then have to employ an interpreter too with the additional risks of maternity leave, sick leave, absences, potential disciplinaries…? This reduction in flexibility and right of choice can only lead to even more discrimination for Deaf people.

So what now?

Many ASLI members are still writing to their MPs as well as responding to them after work done by the ASLI AtW group. Their AtW report coming out soon reporting on members’ experiences and the challenges they face in not being able to work confined by these unworkable DWP policies.

After the Deaf Lobby Day on Monday where many Deaf people attended parliament, an Early Day Motion has now been tabled against the discriminatory AtW changes. Please ask your MP to sign the EDM and stop the Conservatives from attscking more of those that use state services and support and the professions that facilitate these services.

Courts, continued chaos and confidentiality

Capita still holds the contract for interpreting for the courts and police despite further and regular failings. The contract was originally awarded to ALS in August 2011 and the company was bought by Capita a few months later just before the contract went live in January 2012. This five year contract, worth £75 million, has cost the public purse more than it has saved in mistrials, adjournments and wasted time.

The contract is now two years in but despite frequent and disastrous failings the Ministry of Justice still states the contract has saved the taxpayer money. There have been frequent reports about spoken language interpreters or rather those that are unqualified but work as interpreters. There is still little reported about sign language apart from what can be said on this blog.

Meanwhile… the National Audit Office investigated and reported on the contract in September 2012. A further report was released last November into the role of major contractors in the delivery of public services. A frightening half of £187 billion of total public spend, national and local, is on contractors. The UK’s infrastructure has steadily been privatised. A large percentage of that £187 billion will be going to shareholders rather than development and reinvestment in the UK’s economy.

Any argument to say that they are creating employment does not hold when the jobs provided are at a much lower quality than the ones that were available before the contracts. Capita has since eroded the quality of spoken language interpreters provided for different assignments by lowering the tier of available interpreters for certain types of work. We have seen what has happened to employment under this government: zero-hour contracts where those ‘employed’ live in an insecure world of waiting until 5pm to know whether they have work the next day and a living wage currently unsupported. With the cost of living continuing to rise, the minimum wage does not cover daily expenses. A Capita paid interpreter often does not even receive the minimum wage once travel and other expenses have been factored in.

The NAO report states that three quarters of the £4 billion central government spending went to the big four contractors: G4S, Atos, Serco and Capita. As is typical with large companies there is tax avoidance. The treasury and the tax payers loses out again. The Linguist Lounge provides a good summary of the report.

Reports of spoken language interpreter failings were numerous as soon as the contract rolled out. As UK sign language bodies had campaigned successfully for a minimum standard of RSLI, stories of a drop in standards were few and far between though most Deaf professionals and experienced interpreters were aware that the sign language interpreting agency providing most of the interpreters were actively recruiting those with little or no legal experience.

We know that sign language interpreters have been paid less, agencies are still vying for work with the agency originally favoured losing out and more work is going out direct to the interpreters who market themselves as available to the courts. There is still a lack of sign language interpreting stories hitting the news as the community sticks to its tenet of confidentiality. For those not in the Deaf community, confidentiality is taken very seriously in a community where even nationally everyone knows someone who knows that person. Nevertheless, hearsay and gossip continue under the radar and they tell us standards have fallen, interpreters have not been booked for hearings and where booked, standards are generally not as good as they were. This too with several high profile cases being investigated and held concerning government access to work funding fraud.

So what now? Capita continues, badly. The Public Accounts Committee is still asking the NAO to continue investigations. And the excellent Professional Interpreters 4 Justice campaign continues. Let’s hope for a watershed moment and soon. The importance of proper interpreters was highlighted recently with viral reporting of Mandela’s memorial service interpreter with all watching and reporting hoping it would make a difference for everyone in raising standards. Perhaps those that have stories about Deaf people being denied interpreters in courts or being provided ones of a lower quality could find some way to get permission or report them for the benefit of us all.


The 38 Degrees Access to Work Campaign – The Story So Far

ATW campaign

Emily Smith was instrumental in setting up the 38 degrees campaign to stop the discriminatory changes to Access to Work funding for Deaf people. As a joint sponsor she has been tirelessly pushing for more signatures to the campaign to bring issues the Deaf community face to ministers. She is a Registered BSL/English Interpreter working with the Deaf community. Emily provides an update below about the campaign.

In case you don’t know what all this is about, Access to Work (AtW) have decided to start to implement guidance, forcing Deaf people that use 30 hours or more AtW support, to employ a salaried interpreter. No flexibility. No choice. No control. There has been no consultation with deaf people or their employers or interpreters. It is unworkable, yet AtW haven’t taken this into account.

Why we set up the campaign?

There had been many unspoken discussions amongst us about what was happening with Access to Work. The odd look here, the odd tut there…  Then one fateful Monday night, having spoken about the fact that no one seemed to be doing anything, it happened. We found ourselves on the 38 degrees website writing furiously. Within an hour we had a campaign!

What happened next was very unexpected. The campaign went live and up on Facebook at 6.30pm…. Later that night, we had 1,000 signatures… By the next day, we had 2,500! The little logo that we’d hastily created was all on everyone’s pages. The response was amazing and showed us that we were right in our thinking…. People were worried about this.

We have been asked why we didn’t go to the Deaf organisations about our concerns. The reason was time. We all had people we knew that were being affected, and their jobs were being placed at risk now. Organisations not only take a long time to get things done, they hadn’t been communicating with their own members about Access to Work even being a concern. We could do something immediately. If we were right about people being worried and feeling that they weren’t being represented, a campaign would show the people involved that something needed to be done. Quickly.

We are thrilled at the level of response. Already we’ve seen ministers talking as a direct result of the campaign, and deaf charities raising the issue.

Deaf organisations seem to have been spurred into action. If our campaign had any part in this, then that’s brilliant!

What next?

A letter will be winging its way to the two addressees of our petition; Sir Malcolm Bruce and Iain Duncan Smith, and we will of course keep everyone informed of their response. For the most important news, we will send emails to everyone that has signed up to the campaign. There are lots of other things going on too. Keep your eye on our website for the most recent updates:, or like our Facebook page, or follow us on Twitter (@emilysmith2007).

What can you do to help? 

Numbers! We need more signatures!

The more people we can get to sign up to this, the more pressure this will put on organisations, AtW and Ministers to do something!  Send emails to your friends, family and work colleagues, asking them to sign and share the petition. You can also email your local MP. There are template letters on our website. If you have been told to recruit an interpreter using your AtW resources let us know. We need your stories please share them with us by emailing

Government Committee to quiz MoJ about Interpreting Contract

The Public Accounts Committee, a group of MPs who scrutinise spending of government funds by government departments, will again question MoJ representatives about the
contract for interpreting services.

The contract now owned by outsourcing giant, Capita, has not improved despite reports to the contrary and large investments by the company. Failings of the contract appear in the news nearly every day.

You can see the PAC meeting live this afternoon at 2.15pm where the CEO of Capita will be questioned.

You can read previous comment and analysis of the contract, previous Public Accounts Committee meetings and National Audit Office reports here.