The Immigration Act creates a duty to ensure that all public authority staff working in customer-facing roles speak fluent English or Welsh to an appropriate standard – the ‘fluency duty’. Public authorities affected by this include NHS bodies. The intended introduction of this new provision is Autumn 2016.

The Government has drafted a Code of Practice to help employers decide how to comply with the new requirement, and that common sense is used in the approach.

Customer facing roles
Below are some of the considerations employers should have when determining whether a worker has a customer facing role:

• Is there a business need for interaction with the public;
• What is the frequency and form of this interaction;
• What is the level of service quality and responsiveness expected by the public

Setting the standard
Setting the necessary standard of English or Welsh will depend on the type of customer facing role. Public authorities must consider the nature and the extent of the spoken communication which is necessary for effective performance. The following are some of the factors which may be considered:

• Frequency of spoken interaction
• Topic of spoken interaction
• Whether the communication is likely to include technical, profession-specific or specialist vocabulary

Some customer facing roles are already subject to a language standard – GMC core guidance states that doctors who practise medicine in the UK must have the necessary knowledge of English Language. It is not anticipated that there will be a need to impose a higher standard in fulfilling the fluency duty than that.

More information on the draft Code of Practice is available from the Advice Service.