The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has entered a legally binding agreement with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to improve support for deaf customers accessing its services by telephone.
Two advisers raised a complaint with the EHRC on behalf of four hearing-impaired people who needed to use the telephone service with a British Sign Language interpreter to help them decide whether or not to apply for a home loan.
All four disabled people faced difficulties in dealing with staff from DWP and Serco who didn’t know how to arrange the interpreting service. One out of the four managed to book an interpreter, but only after three months of difficulty.
Rebecca Hilsenrath, Chief Executive at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:
“Disabled people must be able to access services in the same ways as other users. The danger of insufficient support becomes even greater when you combine the difficulty of accessing essential services with the need for a loan to secure a home.
“Interpreters and other reasonable adjustments are essential for deaf people when trying to access phone services and we are pleased that the DWP have committed to making these vital improvements.
“We hope that such changes will not only improve access to these services for disabled people, but also the ability of DWP staff to understand what adjustments are required and how to make them, so that everyone can adequately access the help and support they require.”
A DWP spokesperson said:
“With over 87,000 British Sign Language users currently living in the UK, it is vital that all of our services are accessible for deaf people and those with hearing loss. We are absolutely committed to continually improving the support we provide and this agreement cements that position and sets us on the right path for the future.
“We have already rolled out Video Relay Services to Universal Credit, disability benefits and the Access to Work scheme, helping to remove unnecessary obstacles for people accessing the welfare safety net. This improvement plan includes a rolling programme of staff awareness and we will continue to work collaboratively with the EHRC over the next 12 months to embed this work.”
In its agreement with the EHRC, the DWP has committed to an action plan to address the problems these complaints identified.
The action plan commits DWP to:
- Provide a Video Relay Service (VRS) across telephony services for all benefits and services. VRS enables deaf users to contact DWP via video relay using an interpreter;
- Ensure customers can easily locate what they need in order to request information in alternative accessible formats;
- Improve their customer information system so disabled people’s communication needs are recorded and shared;
- Improve the use of Equality Analysis in the design and delivery of all changes.
The EHRC will monitor DWP’s action plan on a monthly basis to ensure the agreed steps have been completed.