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.

One Year on: The Ministry of Justice’s Failed Interpreting Contract

The latest on the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) contract, which is approaching its one year anniversary, is that the contract holders, Capita are still hanging on. From 8th January the travel costs are being slashed to 20p per mile. Travel costs were the only benefit for people accepting a job as a ‘linguist’ (their term for an untrained interpreter and insulting to real linguists). There are already grumblings.

Any clued-up interpreter knew this was due to happen and it is why the boycott has been admirably sustained by all those that are professionals and know their worth. Here follows a summary of what has happened over the last year:

  • Key interpreter organisations object to a monopoly contract and point out what should be the minimum standards as already set up in the National Agreement.
  • ALS awarded contract by promising unsustainable savings despite protests.
  • ALS offers interpreters greatly reduced payments for working in courts.
  • Professional interpreters refuse to work under these conditions for ludicrously low payments.
  • The courts are thrown into chaos with many bookings unfilled and courts experiencing many adjournments and delays.
  • Bonuses are paid to entice anyone to accept work (£5 extra for accepting an online booking) and mileage and payments are increased to entice ‘linguists’ to court.
  • Untrained, unqualified speakers of other languages, sometimes those who do not even speak the languages they say they do, start to work for the contract.
  • Reports are numerous amongst interpreters and reach the UK media of linguists travelling miles to rack up travel payments.
  • Courts continue to experience severe delays.
  • Capita takes over ALS and pays £7.5 million and invests a further £5.4 million.
  • Several ALS and Capita personnel leave including ex-Chief Executive Gavin Wheeldon.
  • Parliamentary hearings confirm what everybody knew: the contract holders know nothing about interpreting or the standards that were put in place before the contract removed them.
  • From instructions set out by the Public Accounts Committee, Capita start to CRB check the ‘linguists’ registered on its database, check whether they actually have qualifications and start to tighten up checks. These were fairly non-existent until this point.
  • A year after the contract starts mileage rates slashed to 20p per mile and effort is made to find local personnel, the contract promised that interpreters would be sourced from within a 25 mile radius, but with the payments originally offered this did not happen.

The next chapter in this story will surely be that no-one will work for Capita at the proposed rates. £16 – £22 per hour for a court job, with many being classed at the £16 per hour level – if someone paid out more than they were allowed to claim and travelled far to attend a job, Capita’s so-called linguists would be working for less than the minimum wage. The MoJ surely could not expect professionals for those prices and professionals it does not get. The courts have seen a parade of second-jobbers standing in for professional interpreters including hotel staff walking out of courts before hearings are finished to get back to their real jobs, reports of mis-interpretations abound and ‘linguists’ who do not speak their stated languages.

Capita’s website reveals no mention of standards, of registration (NRPSI or NRCPD), of minimum levels of qualifications, of CRB checks, Codes of Conduct or professional indemnity insurance. The only word they use is ‘qualified’. In what exactly, it is not clear. Perhaps anything other than languages or even interpreting, going by the personnel they are still sending to courts.

And what of Sign Language Interpreting? The contract has changed the face of interpreting mainly due to how the booking system works. The Capita monopoly just does not work. With patches of evidence of lowered standards in place it ticks over, many afraid to report bad practice due to confidentiality. More job requests are issued directly from courts and are being farmed out to agencies who have never been heard of and who may never have booked a Sign Language Interpreter. Worrying as they will not be aware of our standards of registration. With no monitoring of the contract by the MoJ this leaves us in a risky situation that has already seen influent sign language users, who are not yet registered interpreters, working in courts, despite promises by the MoJ.

There no longer seems to be a preferred supplier as the jobs that are released by Capita go out to a myriad of sign language interpreting agencies and some spoken language ones. Let us remember whenever there is a monopoly situation, the larger company inevitably uses competition between sub-contractors to drive the price down. We have seen this with another large spoken language agency and their numerous public service contracts leaving us in a situation where the least experienced interpreters are doing jobs that should be done by the most experienced such as mental health, child protection and probation.

In the courts it has been reported that some newly registered interpreters are accepting court or police work, often without any additional training. Why? Some agencies like to reassure interpreters they are capable. Less scrupulous agencies will tell an interpreter anything to fill the job. It is not their decision whether an interpreter should do the job but it is up to the interpreter in question. This practice by agencies has happened for years but newer interpreters are left ever more vulnerable by a changed economic landscape and an unwillingness to pay for support networks such as ASLI. This is how many of us learned to be professionals and to see ourselves as a collective. Let us all remind ourselves of the NRCPD’s Code of Conduct for competence: You must recognise and work within the limits of your competence, and if necessary, refer on to another proficient professional.

Although there are still experienced court interpreters working for Capita. Many are not or state they are experienced but actually are not up to the job. One of the most important skills a court interpreter should have is an ability to monitor their own output and enter into discussions about their work. If you see bad practice in courts please report it to the NRCPD. Often the Deaf clients, if vulnerable, will not be able to do so. It is our duty.

Stories abound of clients not understanding court interpreters. Perhaps interpreters are not insisting on Deaf relay interpreters when it is needed, perhaps when one is not present they do not have the skills to deliver the court proceedings in a way that the Deaf people present will understand something, no matter what their level of language or conceptual understanding. Court work is often not the same as working with a Deaf person who has such good language skills that even if you are not that good an interpreter they will do the processing for you whilst you sign something vaguely relevant to what is going on.

One reader of this blog reports: One client stated they had not understood the interpreters in court and she did not know what she had been there for, what the charge was and what the outcome of the proceedings were. When pressed by the solicitor she could not answer. The interpreter states they interpreted in more or less international sign as this was not a native user of BSL. Her companion eventually stated the charge, that she was found guilty but had not yet been sentenced.

Unfortunately this is more common than it used to be. Will our situation get worse if we too are subjected to a further drop in terms and conditions? Capita will be looking to make savings somewhere as they can not drop the rates of spoken language interpreters any more than they have. With a flat rate of £34 per hour that is not a margin that screams profit, especially not when they are being subjected to wasted costs orders by judges. With no mention of standards of BSL/English interpreting stated presumably they are covered to send anyone who can pick up their hands and pretend, much like the linguists who speak Bulgarian but interpret in Russian and which ever language they can get away with.

This is not access to justice for Deaf people and especially not for speakers of other languages. The British justice system is often seen as the fairest in the world. Just not anymore if you speak another language.

Agencies’ Use of Unregistered Signers

There are three different agencies in operation:

1) Those that provide only Registered Interpreters, for any assignment. They have good reputations and on the whole respect interpreters’ pay and terms and conditions.

2) Those that provide anyone that signs and do not distinguish between a registered interpreter and a signer – see many spoken language agencies fulfilling bookings on the cheap for the NHS and other statutory organisations.

3) Those that sell themselves as the first type and have a reputation for being a proper provider of Registered Interpreters but in reality for certain bookings will provide and convince the consumer that someone unregistered is acceptable for that particular booking.

Most often that is for education. This has now crept towards employment for some agencies and in the case of one agency, with a good reputation in the Deaf community, social work and mental health.

Most disappointingly the last type of agency can apply to those who are supposedly BSL specialists and should know what they are doing.

In fact they do know what they are doing but choose not to do the right thing. By either clouding the issue or somehow thinking they know best or purely because they think they can get away with it. Many experienced interpreters boycott agencies because they have bad working practices or provide CSWs/signers. As an industry (or profession) we have standards of registration in place and many interpreters recognise that. They understand the value of quality and potential damage to their own reputation by association with a bad agency. It is much more preferential to be seen as an interpreter of good standing, associated with the best. It makes good business sense.

Reputation used to be everything whether you were an upcoming interpreter or an agency. It is how you sustain your business, your future and your chosen career. For some this does not appear to be a concern. Again whether they are an individual or a company.

Some excuses seem to be:

‘Well it’s not court interpreting.’ No, but it is still interpreting. A very wise man said once that any interpreter being paid out of public funds should be registered. If you want to book a level 2 signer for your wedding knock yourself out. Registration is the only way to make sure you have someone who has been deemed fit to practice. You wouldn’t choose a car mechanic with no training would you? Or worse, a doctor?

‘They are a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults) and therefore great.’
We know from research a CODA does not automatically make a great interpreter. Training and experience does. Everyone knows at least one CODA that is an awful interpreter. It’s time we dispelled this myth. Without the correct training and guidance on making ethical decisions those that have not completed are not yet equipped.

‘I have a right to choose.’ Yes, the right to choose from 800 Registered Interpreters and 200 more trainees. There should be a rating system or more ways of Deaf people assessing the quality of the interpreter. Choosing someone who is nice rather than registered does not give any guarantee. It is a given that some Deaf people would be surprised if they could actually hear the voice over of the interpreter sometimes. Choose a ‘nice’ interpreter who fits with your requirements but is also registered. That way you can complain if it all goes wrong.

‘But I’ve known them for years, and they’re fine.’ How do you know? If they are fine they’d be registered by now.

‘That agency is cheap/cheaper.’ There will be a reason for that.

Many interpreters are voting with their feet. Why work for an agency that puts you in vulnerable positions, that bullies you into taking jobs, that tries to force down fees with unfair prices or will potentially ruin your reputation? Is it not better to be seen as an interpreter of standing, of dignity, of quality?

Consumers, why book an interpreter through an agency like that? Just because they say they are a BSL agency or appear to be Deaf or interpreter led (not all is as it seems). Do you get the interpreter you want or are they never available? Do you still get charged extortionate or at least high fees for what is often someone sitting in an office who cuts and pastes your email request and sends it to a list of interpreters? Do you find you don’t always get good customer service?

Deaf people, interpreters, other consumers of interpreters: it’s time to stand up for quality, standards, reputation. There is still a place for agencies in the BSL world and they will not disappear just yet.

Agency standards and the idea of charter marks or an agency register have been discussed. Until something is set up external to the agencies themselves we are left with an unfortunate situation with (some) agencies behaving badly.

Let’s endorse the agencies and interpreting services who create value for the Deaf community (and not with community services they charge for anyway or funds no-one can access) but the ones who are open to feedback, the ones who support Deaf people in making complaints, the ones who have good working relationships with quality interpreters.

Deaf people and interpreters. There is choice out there. Vote with your feet, there is a right direction in which we should all walk.

Signers at Work: A Glass Ceiling for Deaf People

There is an important point to be explored that our mystery shopper made. There needs to be another look at the trend of falling of standards in interpreter provision that is clearly apparent and why this trend needs to be reversed.

It used to be the norm that an agency would provide a registered and therefore appropriately qualified interpreter for important jobs at the very least. I include in this not just courts and police but, and this is not an exhaustive list: tribunals, mental health, child protection, the trickier medical jobs and important workplace assignments such as interviews. Interviews of the kind used in the mystery survey, where so many agencies were keen to sell a Communication Support Worker (CSW) to the hearing consumer, who they offered ‘would be ‘good enough’.

We have several problems here: the ignorance of the consumer, the willingness of an agency to make the sale at the best profit possible, the lack of control of the Deaf consumer and ultimately the drop in standards we have now encountered due to these problems.

When climbing the career ladder toward registration it used to be oft repeated that registration was the ‘safe to practice’ benchmark. Somewhat like getting your driving licence. You’re supposed to know the theory of driving and have a little experience. You spend a significant amount of time after the test still learning, you can not drive every where and would not risk your life or anyone else’s by doing so. After passing your test and getting your licence you are still learning. You may decide to do some motorway lessons or take an advanced driving qualification but you would not attempt to drive round Brands Hatch without a crash helmet or an experienced tutor in tow. And you wouldn’t do that straight after your test. Agencies are providing, for job interviews, signers who have barely started their lessons and haven’t been on the road long enough to do justice to a Deaf person in an interview. Some of these agencies, Deaf-led.

Now signers: once registered you are signed up to a Code of Conduct that says you should not accept work for which you do not have the skills. It happens to all of us that once in a while we do a less than fantastic job but it is not acceptable to accept jobs and put people at risk knowingly. Through strong networks of support future interpreters could tap into that knowledge and throughout their study it was drummed into them that they should not work in certain areas. Why is that message not getting through? Is it the economic climate that takes precedent? Of course people need to work. The common term in the community was ‘cowboy interpreter’. Perhaps we should resurrect that phrase as it needs no further explanation. In a small community many future interpreters were concerned about taking on jobs for fear of ruining their future reputation. Perhaps this is less of a worry when you are given an endless stream of jobs by agencies who flout the conventions held up by the community for so long. There is now less motive to actually do more qualifications with a goal to becoming registered.

So why in the mystery shoppers survey did so many agencies recommend a CSW for a job interview and why are the Deaf community not up in arms about this?

Cost.

The myth is that the interpreter is expensive. No. Agencies are. The consumer pays more and quite frequently gets a reduction in quality of service provision as made apparent from the amount of agencies providing a CSW for a job interview.

At the higher cost end of the spectrum it was clear that many spoken language agencies were ripping off the consumer with a ridiculous profit margin. If they source an unqualified signer it would cost them in the region of £50. A 250% mark up. At least.

What is also apparent from the cheaper end of the spectrum is that you get what you pay for. Some agencies with cheaper costs are the ones taking advantage of the market to squeeze interpreters’ fees. All the Deaf person is going to get is someone with less experience. In some cases you do not get much for what you pay for. With a £5 difference per hour between a CSW and a registered interpreter it is clear which one is more value for money.

It is about time we saw a shift in the general mentality from ‘interpreters are too expensive’ to ‘my interpreter costs X because they are brilliant, reflect me well and I am more likely to get the job/get a promotion’. Until the whole of the Deaf community get behind the need for standards, for value for money, for regulation of interpreters and the right to quality then the whole system is in danger of imploding in on itself.

There is not enough space here to go into the problems of Access to Work budgets, that is a separate issue. There is not enough time to go into the problems we have with the current system. There is a clear need for real solutions. What we must not lose sight of is the following:

The government agenda within Access to Work is about right to control. In this situation the Deaf client had no control. The point that is oft repeated by ASLI’s Access to Work group to the DWP when representing ASLI members is that Deaf people should have the right to control, not from anyone in a free (mostly black) market but from a pool of registered and safe interpreters. That is the point of registration and the fact the consumer then has some kind of protection. When the booking is made by someone else, in this case the hearing consumer, all control is lost to the agency and consumer protection no longer exists.

Where are the rights of the Deaf person? Does anyone really believe the Deaf person would have got the job in the mystery shopping scenario with a CSW trying to interpret for their interview?

No. It’s about time we shifted the focus from cost to value. All of our aspirations should be higher rather than the self-imposed glass ceiling that is evident. It would be great if more Deaf people could earn more than the average interpreter (which for most of us after expenses is not that much). There are quite a few people out there that do. I’d imagine they understand the need for an experienced interpreter that offers value for money in order to break those barriers and truly see Deaf people gain work to their full potential.

Anonymous Shopping: Apology Number Two

Submitted by ‘Emma Biel’, the Mystery Shopper who posted the original post entitled: ‘Anonymous Shopping: How Much Interpreting Agencies Really Charge’.

It seems I have another apology to make. I received a letter at 4:12pm on the 15th of August 2012. The letter was from the legal firm representing appa and they have requested that the inaccuracies in the original blog be corrected so as not to further cause injury to reputation. The remedy for libel is to modify the blog to correct all inaccuracies.

With respect to the fee quoted, which was £50 per hour for an RSLI and £45 per hour for a CSW (2 hour minimum charge) –they would like it known that this was for an ad hoc booking and that appa have a “more flexible cost structure…”. Regular clients are charged at a lower rate.

On the blog, I failed to mention that appa offer a 10% discount to new clients. Therefore the cost for that assignment would have in fact been £45 for an RSLI and £40.50 for a CSW. Not £50 and £45 as was originally stated. I am sorry for the omission.

I also did not state that in respect of travel, appa do not charge VAT. Again, I am sorry. Having looked again at the email chain I can see nothing that relates to travel and VAT so can only excuse my ignorance based on the fact that it wasn’t mentioned.

In the original blog I claimed that appa offered me a level 4 CSW. This was based on the information provided below:

“Has the deaf person asked you for a prefer level of BSL signer?

For a qualified interpreter they have level 6 in BSL

For a communicator they have level 3 or level 4.

There are various levels and it’s always good to ask the deaf client there preferred level of communication support they require. If your unable to get that information I would recommend CSW BSL level 4 but if its for a interview then I would recommend the above level”

I understood “the above level” to mean CSW level 4, but the inference I have taken from the solicitors’ letter is that they actually meant level 6. So to clarify, in the absence of information regarding a deaf person’s preference they would recommend a CSW who has level 4 BSL. But for an interview they would recommend someone who has level 6 BSL.

I mentioned on the initial blog that appa “Offered to help me apply to ATW to cover costs – then their fee becomes all inclusive” They would like it clarified that this is a free service in which they also process all of the paperwork.

I also need to apologise for some further ambiguity. I stated that appa “Offered me an interpreter for the afternoon even though I had requested the morning”, this was based on the information below:

“I do have an interpreter available for next Tuesday 14th august for 4pm

Please let me know if this is suitable for you.”

They later emailed to say “if you would like us to process this request for the morning we can.”

Because they had previously offered an interpreter for the afternoon I was confused and so did not respond. I apologise. I should have taken the time to clarify the information.

And finally, they would like it known that they are in fact ‘appa’ and not ‘Appa’ as I had previously stated.

These amendments have now been made to the original post.

Anonymous Shopping: An Apology and some Additions

There has been a rather strong reaction to the last post which was an anonymous post submitted by a mystery shopper. On the whole there was a good reaction with responses saying how finally there is some transparency as to what agencies charge and whether they provide Registered Interpreters or not.

Before I go on I need to publicly apologise to RAD (Royal Association of Deaf People) and their interpreting service. The original post stated that the mystery shopper had emailed RAD twice and had no response. After a complaint was made by RAD, the mystery shopper was informed. They got back to me after a few hours when they had investigated and found RAD’s original response in the spam folder of the Gmail account that was used. As the spam folder does not automatically show up in the navigation menu the shopper was unaware a response had already been sent. This information has now been added to the original table. Needless to say many people who work with the Deaf community and beyond are aware of RAD’s excellent interpreting service. They state any profit that is made from the service is put back into their Deaf community projects. They had also clearly stated they only use NRCPD Registered Interpreters.

The mystery shopper and I, as publisher of the information, both sincerely apologise for any inconvenience or damage done. When I realised that information was missing I should have flagged this up before publishing the post. It is regretful and I truly hope RAD, its employees and any interpreters that may be affected by this error, can accept this apology.

The mystery shopper has now added a comment on the original blog with the original script of the email and an explanation of why the survey was done in order to clear up any misunderstandings.

I also need to notify readers of the blog of one more addition to the table, with a very late response, which was K International. They quoted £250 + VAT for the mystery assignment lasting an hour. No information was given about standards or registration.

On the whole both interpreters and Deaf people have been overwhelmingly positive about the survey. There has been much talk of agency standards and even regulation over the years which has not come to anything yet. This is, in the main, because it is not in the interest of most agencies to be regulated. This needs to come from an external body. Work has been done on publicising the registration process to Deaf people who are better informed than ever about their rights to a Registered Interpreter. It is the most vulnerable who would be unaware or unable to ask to see an interpreter’s registration badge on arrival and these are the people who need protecting.

What I am also aware of is that some agencies have said they only use Registered Interpreters but I have know them to use CSWs and signers on occasion. Until we have regulation and more accountability there are agencies that will continue this practice.

It is worth noting that a cheaper price often reflected the fact that an agency had in house interpreters who they were able to provide at a cheaper cost or the agency required freelancer interpreters to work at a much reduced rate than the published average from ASLI’s Fees and Salaries survey indicating that profits were more important than quality of interpreter or standard of service. It is hard to tell as a consumer of interpreting but interpreters will find this information useful as they will know what they are being asked to charge.

What the survey has cleared flagged up is:

- many agencies are using unregistered and untrained interpreters and charging hundreds of pounds

- some of the bigger agencies are charging over double the amount a freelance interpreter would quote

- some parts of the Deaf community are still vulnerable to the unethical practices of some of these agencies

- many of the interpreter and some of the Deaf-led agencies came out favourably with the interests of Deaf people at heart

- people booking interpreters are being given wildly differing and sometimes completely inaccurate information about interpreters and the registration system i.e. being told someone with level 3 is ‘good enough’ for an assignment

- we need to set up regulation of agencies urgently

- we need to stop the use of CSWs being used for any assignment and agencies should not be allowed to decide on behalf of the consumer as to whether or not this is acceptable

- we need to protect the title of interpreter to ensure anyone who is not a Registered Interpreter can not legally work as one to safeguard all involved

Again, I would like to thank the mystery shopper. It really wasn’t me. I am merely the messenger. Please do not shoot me.

Anonymous Shopping: How Much Interpreting Agencies Really Charge

Submitted Anonymously

I decided a few weeks ago that what the profession needed was a bit of mystery shopping, so I contacted all the agencies on the list via email and requested a ‘signer’ for a small business conducting a recruitment interview for an apprentice, one of which was deaf. We were flexible on times, but needed the ‘signer’ for an hour in the morning. After getting a response I sent an email back with a confused query about qualifications and registration. You can see the responses for yourselves. All discussions took place via email and I have kept the responses should anyone wish to challenge the information provided. My personal opinion is that as a general rule, interpreter led agencies come out on top.

AGENCY QUOTE NOTES
Aditus £120 + travel + £30 admin fee Claimed to only use fully qualified and registered interpreters
Couldn’t provide anyone in house for the time requested, offered to find an alternative from their databases
Included full terms and conditions
Explained the registration process clearly.
Action on Hearing Loss £168 + travel Claimed all interpreters used were qualified and registered
(3 hr minimum)
appa RSLI – £50 per hour, CSW £45 per hour Offered to help me apply to ATW to cover costs – then their fee becomes all inclusive, they offer a free service to deal with AtW paperwork
First booking receives a 10% discount so charges would be Interpreter £45 per hour, CSW £40.50. No VAT added on travel. Explained the difference between interpreter and CSW as interpreter has level 6 BSL and CSW level 3 or 4, Recommended for an interview someone with level 6 BSL should be used
(2 hr minimum) Offered me an interpreter for the afternoon initially though I had requested the morning then later stated they had someone available
Applied Language Solutions Unknown Emailed. No response.
Bee Communications £250 + VAT + travel Offered advice on interviewing a deaf person
Try to offer fully qualified (level 5) called MRSLI
Said I probably didn’t need that level and could book a cheaper trainee
Later offered someone fully qualified and to lower the fee to £240 inclusive
Big Word £50 (3 hour minimum) Claimed that registered and qualified signers were only needed for ‘official representation’ such as courts, but not for job interviews
Total cost = £150 + VAT + travel time + expenses Offered to locate an interpreter local to me so as to save on travel costs
BSL Beam N/A Stated straight away that they were not an agency, but explained their position in the market
Offered some reputable specialist agencies local to the area
Offered a detailed and comprehensive explanation of the NRCPD registration process
Explained the risks of using someone unqualified
Provided an explanation of Access to Work
BSL Link4Comm £136.50 + travel Claim to only use experienced NRCPD registered interpreters
(3 hr minimum) Mentioned equality legislation and the impact of using unqualified people
Mentioned code of conduct
City Lit (Sign Here) Unknown Transparent – said they didn’t have anyone available until Sept
Redirected me to the NRCPD website – told me how to book direct to save money
Gave me an indication of industry standard fees to expect and pointed me towards information on working with an interpreter
Fully explained what registration and qualification meant – only organisation to correct my use of the term ‘signer’ and explain the difference
Outlined the legal ramifications of using a ‘signer’
Clarion £159 + travel + VAT Said “don’t necessarily need a fully qualified interpreter but you would want minimum level 3.”
(3 hr minimum) I asked if level 3 was enough, the response was that it depends
Codex Global Unknown Refused to quote without full information and details
Cohearentvision N/A No one available – pointed me towards the London Interpreters website
Communication ID £125 + VAT Explained the difference between RSLI and unqualified.
Claim to only use RSLI
Mentioned ASLI and NRCPD
Deaf Agency One off fee of £42 (first time customer) Said “We like to keep our costs down and try to be a flexible as possible”
Usually £126 + travel + VAT Claim all staff are registered
Deaf Direct Unknown Recommended booking an agency locally and offered some contact details
Mentioned NRCPD and recommended booking someone fully qualified, checking registration status and then explained why this was important
Told us we could save money by booking an interpreter directly from the NRCPD website
Explained ATW and provided a link to the website
Deaf Positives £145 + VAT + travel Claimed that a registered interpreter was required but not essential
Clarified what RSLI meant
Said “The other type of sign language interpreter is Registered Trainee Interpreter and they are trainees from approx level 1 to level 3.”
Deaf Umbrella £143.14 inclusive of travel and VAT Told me that MRSLI’s were more expensive
(2 hr minimum) Said ” Unless your candidate has specifically requested a fully qualified Interpreter, a lower level of sign support would be completely appropriate. “
MRSLI did not need to be booked unless client specifically requested one, but they take weeks to book in advance
They had a member of staff available to interpret
Suggested ATW as a way of covering the cost of interpreting and a member of staff could help
Diversus £162 + VAT + travel Pushy – kept requesting my full details and a confirmation
Sourced an interpreter before I’d even confirmed I wanted one
Essex Interpreting £120 + travel + VAT Claim to use only registered interpreters. Mostly qualified, some JTI
Femaura Unknown Said “Level 6 is full qualified”
Only really wanted to talk over the phone
Interpreting Matters £170 + VAT Claim to only use registered interpreters
Full explanation of NRCPD registration process
Price dependent on interpreter fee Explained ATW
Explained the ramifications of using unqualified people
Islington Council N/A Explained that they only cover council bookings in Islington
Recommended booking a registered interpreter
Mentioned ASLI
Offered a guide for industry standard freelance fees
Just Communication £210 + VAT Claim to “only use qualified registered interpreters”
K-International £250 + VAT
Language Empire £175 + travel + VAT Said “Interpreters with a Level 4 is the minimum qualification we use…”
(3 hr minimum charge) Fees are for ‘Special Disability Interpreting’ – Charges are the same for CSW’s and Interpreters, ‘Finger Spelling’, ‘Deaf Blind Manual’ & ‘Deaf Blind Hands On’ & ‘Lipreaders’
Language is Everything Wouldn’t state their charges Claim to use qualified & registered interpreters
Stated interpreter industry standard charges as: Clear about the legal ramifications of using someone unqualified – Mentioned DDA
£90-£130 + travel Referred me to ASLI
Language Line N/A Outsource all bookings to Clarion
Lexicon Sign Stream Unknown Explained the qualification and registration process in detail
Explained minimum charges and industry standard fees
Offered to source a local interpreter
Merrill Corporation £260 + VAT + travel Claim to only use qualified and registered interpreters
Mentioned NRCPD and safeguarding and standards
Provided an attachment outlining the roles of BSL interpreters, STTR & Lipspeakers (NRCPD registered) – all comprehensive and accurate
MLIS Unknown Claim to only use qualified translators and never trainees
Very non committal until had all of my details
Neal Communication (NCA) £150 + travel + VAT Asked about qualification levels but preferred to speak over the phone so no clear response
(3 hr minimum)
Newham Language Shop £120 + VAT Claim to only use qualified interpreters and do not ever use unqualified interpreters
Offered to email some advice on how to work with a “signer”
Onestop Agency £50 per hr, 3 hr min + travel Claim to only use fully qualified interpreters or trainee interpreters
Total £150 + travel Recommend not using level 3 NVQ signers and only use those on the register
Say their charges are based on interpreter 3 hour minimum charges
Offered a brief explanation of using a BSL interpreter
Pearl Linguistics £70 per hour Claim “we have access to more BSL interpreters than any other language agency”
(3 hr minimum) Fully explained the difference between a level 3 signer and what it means to be fully qualified and registered
Total £210 + travel + VAT Said “As to your situation, I believe you should be fine with a “level 3”.
Positive Signs Initially free – money accessed through government scheme Claimed to only ever use qualified or experienced personnel
Just said “variable”, has since disclosed fees as £37 RSLI per hour, CSW £32 per hour inclusive of travel + admin fee Free’ interpreters available through apprenticeship scheme, funded using public funds
Prestige £289 + VAT Said all their interpreters were BRCPD registered (could have been a typo) and explained that all people registered had to submit evidence of qualifications
Mentioned the code of conduct that interpreters were expected to follow
Mentioned the three hour industry standard minimum fee and their charges reflected that
Quick Lingo £250 + VAT When quote was challenged, the response was “we charge for the service which includes travel time, travel expenses, plus minimum interpreting time charge.”
Said “Level 3 is sufficient for this assignment and we can provide at least that.”
RAD £130 (2 hour minimum), £47ph thereafter, + travel, no VAT charged Stated full charges, on charge sheet clearly explained that only NRCPD registered interpreters were used.
Remark! £120 + £10 travel + VAT Very pushy, tried to sell me a BSL course
Offered a RSLI
Said “Costings for a qualified interpreter can be very expensive as there are not many qualified interpreters out there “
Sold themselves as deaf led and community focused. Profits fund activities in the deaf community.
Said they could only find an interpreter (in house) for the afternoon and no interpreters were available for the morning; did not offer to source a freelancer
I had requested a morning booking. Said short notice meant no other interpreters were available unless I wanted to change the date
Rosetta Translation £75 per hour No response when I enquired about qualifications
(3 hr minimum)
Half Day £300. + travel + VAT
Sign Language Direct £250 + VAT (3 hr minimum) Said “Since this regards an interview, the 3rd level shall be fine.” – in response to my query about qualifications
Half Day £300 / Full Day £450 (1 interpreter) Said that fully qualified interpreters were only ‘obligitory’ for police and social services
Half Day £600 / Full Day £900 (2 interpreters)
Sign Solutions £145 + travel + VAT Checked interpreter availability and quoted based on the interpreter fee – told me where the interpreter was travelling from
Offered to negotiate travel expenses
Signing Works £135 + VAT + expenses Explained industry standard booking half day or full day
Bristol based – offered a comparative fee.
Claim to only use qualified interpreters for job interviews
Advised about ATW
Explained the complexity of BSL levels and why it was specialist and required some who was qualified
Signs In Vision £35 per hr + travel + £15 admin fee Mentioned NRCPD & ASLI & recommended checking for badges
(3 hr minimum) Explained the NRCPD registration included CRB, insurance and qualification
Total £120 + travel Included a Deaf Awareness document
Included T&C with explanation of NRCPD & ASLI at the top
Silent Sounds £144 + travel Recommended a Trainee Interpreter for the interview
Highlighted the time involved with training
SL-I-D £120 including travel Mentioned ATW and reclaiming costs
(Half day minimum) NRCPD registered
Explained the ramifications of using someone unqualified
SLBF Unknown Emailed twice. No response.
Surrey Council £150 + travel + VAT Claims to only use registered interpreters
(First Point) (3 hr minimum)
Terp Tree £170 + travel + VAT Explained industry 3 hour minimums
(3 hr minimum) Claim to only use qualified and registered interpreters
Follow up email sent with client recommendations
(Will waive fee if unhappy with service) Mentioned ATW
The Sign Language Bank Unknown Emailed twice. No response.
Today Translations Said it can be fine for some signers to “freely pass on the meaning of spoken langauge” but as a general rule they won’t risk it.
Added that “Job interviews are stressful for everyone. If you add hearing problems on top of that…you can imagine how wrong it can go!”
Said “Most of sign interpreters grew up in a household were one or both of the parents were deaf”
Explained that becoming a sign langauge interpreter requires study and practise
Total Communication £200 including VAT and travel Told me the interpreter quote was for fully qualified. After I asked about level, I was told that they were “Level 6 , Trainee Interpreter. So it is above Level 3″
Ubiquis £300 + VAT + travel Claimed to only use fully qualified and experienced interpreters
Offered information about qualifications and registration
Stated that unqualified interpreters would charge less
Offered a local alternative to their company
UK Language Solutions £60 per hour + £30 per hour travel Said “A level 3 qualified interpreter may be acceptable for some interpreting assignments”
(2 hr minimum) But claim to only use qualified and registered interpreters
Veritas Language Solutions £164.60 + £32 VAT Aimed to source an interpreter close to the booking to save on travel
Said the interpreter had a two hour minimum charge, but would not state whether they were qualified even though I specifically asked
Wolfestone £75 + VAT Requested information about qualifications but received no response
Additional hours £50 per hour

BSL Presentation on Interpreters: A Change of Contract or a Change of Heart

A big thank you to Paul Neal of Neal Communications Agency (NCA) for making this video.

It is a completely accurate description, in BSL (transcript in English available), of what is currently happening to the sign language interpreting profession in the UK.

The registration system for interpreters is often misunderstood with Deaf people confusing level 6 in BSL as qualified and not realising interpreters need to complete interpreter training as well in order to register.

There is a good summary of the risks of using signers or CSWs, not only the obvious immediate risk to the Deaf community, but the short and long-term risks to the interpreting profession as a whole and the subsequent effect that will have on Deaf access if these trends are allowed to continue.

Other agencies seem to have misunderstood, are unaware of these risks or are actively using this to increase their own profits. Shockingly there are some Deaf-led agencies guilty of this, who do not have the insight to see the damage they do to their own community.

For me, NCA is the benchmark other agencies, especially Deaf-led, should aspire to follow as an agency with a complete understanding of the market, the risks to the interpreting profession and most importantly to the Deaf community we are all supposed to be here to serve.

Justice Select Committee Call for Evidence

As reported on this blog on 7th July there was news of parliament deciding to investigate the Ministry of Justice’s National Framework Agreement for interpreting and translation services for courts and tribunals across England and Wales.

If you have any evidence to submit of failures with the contract please see the information below which calls for evidence. Further information about how to make a submission to the Committee can be found on the link provided below.

The provision of registered interpreters that lack legal experience or who are unsafe to practice in legal settings is not a breach of contract so this type of evidence has to be submitted in terms of an agency failing to have the correct experience to undertake the contract.

What can be submitted is evidence, similar to that reported in this blog, which could include the following: the wrong provision such as interpreters provided when it should have been lipspeakers, bookings not made by courts or released too late to source an interpreter, provision of unregistered interpreters, costly delays and adjournments from failures to source an interpreter, interpreters asked by judges or panel members to interpret on their own or for different parties when another interpreter can not be sourced.

If you are submitting evidence it will strengthen the case if you can add dates and the court or tribunal in question. This then makes evidence real rather than anecdotal. It is understandable that confidentiality is a concern. Please make this clear when submitting evidence.

Due to work done by PR company Involvis on behalf of the Professional Interpreters for Justice campaign the issues have remained public with another flurry of reports of failures in the news.

An interpreter who could not attend a murder trial sent along her husband instead as she was too busy. If you wish to read some of the latest news there is an excellent round up on the LinguistLounge.org website.

Alongside the G4S Olympic games scandal with security, it can only be a matter of time before this contract is seen by all for what it is. Another expensive and dangerous outsourcing mistake by government.

http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/justice-committee/news/interpretation-and-translation-services/

New Inquiry: Interpretation and Translation services and the Applied Language Solutions contract

18 July 2012

The Justice Select Committee is launching a call for written evidence on the provision of interpretation and translation services since Applied Language Solutions (ALS) began operating as the Ministry of Justice’s sole contractor for language services in February 2012.

Specifically we will seek to explore six areas:

The rationale for changing arrangements for the provision of interpreter services
The nature and appropriateness of the procurement process
The experience of courts and prisons in receiving interpretation services that meet their needs
The nature and effectiveness of the complaints process
The steps that have been taken to rectify under-performance and the extent to which they have been effective
The appropriateness of arrangements for monitoring the management of the contract, including the quality and cost-effectiveness of the service delivered.
The deadline for submissions is Monday 3 September 2012.

Further information on how to submit evidence is on the website stated above.