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Lack of interpreter services causing hardship for migrants

By Susan Gately - 14 December, 2018

Social welfare offices are failing to make Interpreter Services available to people who are not English speakers and in urgent need of access to social welfare supports, according to a report published yesterday.

The report published by Crosscare Information and Advocacy Services (CIAS) entitled Do you speak English? was based on a survey of 80 clients attending Crosscare’s language clinic service over a snapshot period of eight weeks, interviews with their own staff, and three external organisations (NGOs) that offer support to migrants accessing social welfare supports.

Under the Customer Charter & Customer Action Plan 2016–2018, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (DEASP) is meant to provide interpreters for customers on request.

The 52-page report finds that despite this policy, Intreo (social welfare) offices are not offering interpreter services where needed. This means people have to resort to informal interpreters assisting them, sometimes even children, putting at risk equal access to their rights, their welfare, data protection and child protection.

“In the absence of professional interpreters, reliance on informal interpreters or none at all can cause people to have unclear direction on the supports that they can access, they can be incorrectly refused supports, or [it can] lead to the suspension of supports they have. Ultimately, people are experiencing barriers to accessing their rights and entitlements,” said Danielle McLaughlin, Policy Officer with Crosscare.

Interpreter service provision was introduced by the DEASP in 2006, but most access is being used for appeals and medical assessments. “The DEASP would benefit long term by investing in the short term for people in need of access to interpreters, ensuring adequate access, efficient and accurate claims processing and fair access to rights and entitlements,” said Ms McLaughlin. “The government has made commitments under the Migrant Integration Strategy to ensure fair access to public services for migrants and to provide adequate and professionalised interpreter services; therefore we are asking that this is implemented across all public services.”

The key recommendation of the report is that the government must ensure that interpreter service provision across all departments is:

  • Consistently provided with standard signposting and advertising of the service within all relevant public offices.
  • Professionalised to a high-quality standard, with interpreters suitably trained in or familiar with the subject matter area. “This would best be achieved through a system of accreditation such as the Diploma in Public Service Interpreting in the UK,” says CIAS.
  • Adequately regulated, in particular around data protection, GDPR compliance and client confidentiality. “This would be be achieved through an official body that regulates a register of accredited interpreters.”

Turning specifically to the Department of Employment and Social Protection, the report calls for:

  • The committment to Action 18 in the Migrant Integration Strategy 2017–2020 to be driven forward for the development of an interpretation model and best practice guidelines.
  • A customer satisfaction survey to establish the needs of customers for language support.
  • The training of all front-line officers to promote the use of the interpreter service, to make customers aware of the service at all interactions, and training in how to work effectively with interpreters.
  • The promotion of interpreter services through information leaflets at Intreo offices, and
  • The monitoring and evaluation of access to interpreter services.

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