New public sector language requirement

Whilst the recent headlines relating to the public sector have focused on IR35 and potential changes in April 2017, there is also a new requirement from October 2016 to ensure that staff in customer facing roles, including agency workers, speak fluent English (or Welsh).

The “fluent English” requirement applies to bodies that carry out functions of a public nature, such as the NHS, state-funded schools, the police, the armed forces and councils.  However, recruiters that supply staff to the public sector for customer-facing roles will also have to be prepared to meet the “fluent English” requirement as it is likely to be passed down the supply chain by hirers who need to comply.

Sofie Viola Lyeklint of Lawspeed said “Whilst not a change in the law, the new rules may lead to greater screening requirements, responsibility and even contractual obligations being placed on recruiters, who will no doubt be required to ensure that candidates put forward for these roles meet the required fluency standard.  Any additional screening is likely to involve greater time and resources, the extent of which could impact upon existing margins”.

Lyeklint continued “Any recruiter tasked with assessing the individual’s standard of English should be cautious to ensure that this assessment is carried out objectively and in accordance with guidance issued to accompany the new rules. Staff making this assessment should really be trained in diversity as this should reduce the risk of candidates being rejected based upon assumptions relating to race or nationality, which could give rise to discrimination claims.”

The Cabinet Office and Home Office published a draft Code of Practice and an impact assessment on the English language requirement for public sector workers, as a result of the recent legislation changes which can be accessed here.

For advice on the new requirement, diversity training, policies and procedures, or assistance in dealing with discrimination issues please contact Lawspeed on 01273 236 236. 

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