From 21 November 2016, public bodies are under a duty to ensure
that staff in customer-facing roles can speak fluent English (or
Welsh, in Wales). The government intends to use this development to
ensure that the relevant members of staff have a command of spoken
English which is sufficient to enable the effective performance of
The new duty applies to existing staff and new recruits of
bodies that carry out functions of a public nature. This includes
(but is not limited to) the NHS, local governmental bodies, central
government departments, state education and public
The responsibility for ensuring that the relevant individuals
meet the required levels of fluency lies with the public
authorities. Employers may decide to measure this formally (by
setting a test) or informally (perhaps through conversation during
the interview). The government has also published a code of
practice to help employers meet the correct standard. The code
suggests that the levels of fluency required by employers, will
depend on various considerations, such as:
the frequency of any spoken communication with the public;
the topic and length of the spoken interaction;
whether the communication is likely to include technical,
profession-specific or specialist vocabulary; and
how significant the spoken interaction is to deliver the
Employers should note that they must also operate a complaints
procedure in line with this development. Members of the public will
be able to use this procedure to complain about a staff member who
they consider cannot speak English competently. Therefore,
maintaining the necessary levels of fluency will help an employer
to protect its reputation by limiting the number of complaints it
receives from the public.
We encourage all public authorities to make existing staff aware
of the new requirement and the consequences of a failure to meet
the necessary levels of spoken English. Where appropriate,
employers may also wish to amend employment contracts to make the
relevant roles conditional upon the individual meeting the required
standard of fluency. As a matter of best practice, employers should
update recruitment processes so that job adverts clearly set out
the standard of English required for a particular role and adhere
to that standard when assessing a candidate's suitability for
We recommend that where existing staff fail to meet the
necessary threshold, employers should provide relevant training and
monitor staff development. If an employer does not consider there
has been sufficient improvement in the spoken English of any member
of its customer-facing staff within a reasonable period of time,
employers might try to identify alternative measures (for example,
whether there is a suitable alternative position available for that
member of staff or whether they can adjust that role so that they
are not in a customer-facing position). However, employers should
exercise caution against imposing any unilateral changes. Further,
employers should only consider dismissal as a last resort, and we
recommend that any employer exploring this option seeks legal
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