How can employers measure the standard of English required under the English language requirement for public-sector workers?

Under part 7 of the Immigration Act 2016, public authorities are required to ensure that each person who works for them in a customer-facing role speaks fluent English (or Welsh, in Wales). The Act does not prescribe how to assess fluency, but requires employers to have regard to the statutory Code of practice on the English language requirements for public-sector workers, which provides guidance on this.

Section 77(8) of the Immigration Act 2016 provides that, for the purposes of the fluency requirement, a person speaks fluent English if he or she has a command of spoken English that is sufficient to enable the effective performance of his or her role. Therefore, there is no single standard of fluency that will be appropriate for all roles.

The code states that the following factors may be relevant to the standard required in a particular role:

  • the frequency of spoken interaction;
  • the topic of spoken interaction;
  • whether or not the communication is likely to include technical, profession-specific or specialist vocabulary;
  • the typical duration of spoken interaction;
  • whether or not the communication is repeated in, or supplemented by, written material provided to the public; and
  • the significance of the spoken interaction for service delivery.

Language fluency standards already apply in certain public roles, for example for doctors and teachers. The code states that it is not anticipated that a higher standard will be necessary to comply with the requirement under part 7 of the Immigration Act 2016 than is already required for these roles.

Neither the Act nor the code requires employers to subject all new and existing customer-facing staff to formal language tests. The code states that where staff or job applicants are clearly fluent to the necessary standard for the role in question, no further action is necessary.

The code advises that evidence of sufficient fluency could include, but is not limited to:

  • the ability to competently answer interview questions in English or Welsh;
  • possession of a relevant qualification for the role attained as part of education in the UK, or fully taught in English or Welsh by a recognised institution abroad; or
  • passing an English or Welsh spoken language competency test.

Examples of assessment tools and descriptors of fluency standards are included in the code.