Do your employees speak fluent English?
Associate, Veale Wasbrough Vizards
On 21 July 2016, the Cabinet Office and Home Office published a Code of practice on the English language requirement for public sector workers (the Code) and a related impact assessment.
The Government believes that in order to serve the public it is imperative that public sector workers, with customer facing roles, speak English (and Welsh in Wales) fluently. Its manifesto committed to "[legislating] to ensure that every public sector worker operating in a customer-facing role must speak fluent English" and it has delivered this through Part 7 of the Immigration Act 2016 (the Act).
Part 7 of the Act imposes a duty on public authorities to ensure that [JMB1] these individuals are fluent (the Fluency Duty). In determining how to comply with the Fluency Duty, a public authority must have regard to the Code, as it helps them to determine:
- the necessary standard of spoken English or Welsh
- the appropriate complaints procedure to follow should a member of the public consider that the required standard has not been met
- the appropriate forms of remedial action which may be taken if a member of staff falls below the standard required
It also provides guidance on compliance with other legal obligations when deciding how to comply with the Fluency Duty. This includes the public sector equality duty in section 149 of the Equality Act 2010 and the requirement for relevant public authorities in Wales to consider their obligations under the Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011, which sets a new legal context for the Welsh language.
The Government’s intention is to bring Part 7 of the Act into force in the autumn of 2016.
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Public authorities are defined in section 78 of the Act as persons with functions of a public nature. In order to ensure compliance with the Code, public authorities should contemplate its recommendations, particularly with regard to complaints and capability procedures, and consider updating their employment documentation and relevant policies.
The Code only applies to public authorities in England and, in relation to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, to public authorities exercising functions relating to non-devolved matters. However, public authorities also exercising functions relating to devolved matters may still wish to consider the Code and apply its best practice points.