Revealed: Capita Charges for Interpreting Services

NUBSLI members this morning received leaked information about Capita’s charges under the Ministry of Justice contract. It reveals that Sign Language Interpreters, as usual, are talked about as being expensive yet do not receive anywhere near the money that is being charged for their services. A quick breakdown below…

capitas charges

A half day job with 1 hour travel each way
Capita charge:             £172.80 minimum charge + £80.00 Travel time
£252.80 TOTAL

Interpreter’s fee:           Less than half this amount (using Clarion and Sign Solutions rates outside of London).

Interpreters have been taking a pay cut under this contract for years and not getting travel time/expenses resulting in chaos. I am not the only interpreter I know that refuses to work under this contract due the dodgy practices of the contractors and its sub-contractors.

And I will not work for less than NUBSLI fees guidance. With information like this leak, it is about time ALL interpreters learnt how to negotiate the lies told to us by disreputable agencies and toughened up a bit. If you are not sure how to do this and you need support, there is strength in numbers, NUBSLI is the place to go.

Court and police work should demand the best interpreters in the country and pay accordingly. What a sad, sorry state of affairs that this contract is. We all knew that five years ago when it started, let’s not allow this situation to continue. It isn’t just sign language interpreters who have had the wool pulled over their eyes, the situation for spoken language interpreters has been far worse. It is time to stop it.

MoJ interpreting contract: quarter of all BSL bookings cancelled

The government would have us believe the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) framework was a good thing, because it saved them £38 million pounds. This does not accurately reflect what has happened on the ground. A quick trawl of blogs and social media will reveal the MoJ framework (#MoJFWA) has failed. Money saved on the contract has caused untold, incalculable waste in court delays, mistrials and maladministration.
And what of Sign Language interpreters? There are some that would have it that there is no evidence of a fall in standards despite there being plenty of anecdotal evidence that there is. One problem is confidentiality. No one, for example Deaf professionals and interpreters, wants to report sub-standard interpreting in courts when a) they may know the interpreters and b) this means they have the break the confidentiality of the Deaf clients in the court room.

Other interpreters are bound by the (terrible) NRCPD Code of Conduct to report bad practice, yet it happens rarely because 1) we’d hate it if happened to us 2) how do you prove it? 3) complaints rarely seem to progress. A lot of pain for no eventual outcome.

But I’ve blogged about all this before. Let’s talk MoJ stats. Monitoring information from 2014 has been published and a sorry story it does tell.

There were 161,600 completed requests for all languages. 2.2% were for special services listed as: BSL/English interpreters, lip speakers, Deafblind interpreters, speech to text reporters and SSE interpreting (which at least in the States they have the decency to call transliteration rather than use the term SSE like it was anything real). So a total of 3,555 bookings.

Special services did not get over 95% success rate for fulfilment. This document does not reveal what the success rate actually was. 

The stats look fairly innocuous until you look at the cancellations rate for BSL bookings in 2014. Of these 24.5% were cancelled by customer action – customer did not attend or cancelled by customer), an increase of 6.5% in comparison to 2013. 

25%. A quarter. The £38 million spend on interpreting would be far less if everyone got their house in order. But I can posit a guess as to one reason for the high cancellation rate. Subcontracting.

Court cancels a booking. A court clerk, booking officer, police personnel or whoever is administrating bookings needs to get a message back to the supplier i.e. the agency who holds the contract and an effective monopoly, Capita. Capita then needs to contact the subcontractor who then informs the interpreter. So many layers of administration renders an already over-stretched court service ineffective and inefficient via a contract supposedly designed to increase efficiencies. 

The £38 million savings was only down to cutting the pay of spoken language interpreters from £75 under the National Agreement to £21, and that is an increase from the original offering. The rest of the profits are now shared around in framework management fees and profits for the Contractor.

To go back to cancellations fees. Sign Language interpreters cancellation fees are under threat from, historically, Applied Language Solutions winning the tender. They won partly because they promised to deliver a service without offering them. Capita, who took over, continues to use this practice with the subcontractors paying them in some cases. Interpreters have to fight for them.

With 25% of bookings cancelled on arrival, cancellation fees occur in a QUARTER of all bookings. Attempting to not pay these fees was a fallacy and one that would never work. This is a figure that should be kept in mind by interpreters when negotiating their terms and conditions.

What we do know is Capita try and encourage courts to cancel their bookings. Another reason the figure may be so high. They get paid whereas if a booking is unfulfilled they get nothing. I say let us all start refusing to work with them. Interpreters forget that agencies need us to fill contracts. Capita and its subcontractors. There’s only so many in-house interpreters you can try and source to make up the shortfall in freelancers who are refusing to work under the threat that if they take court work which is cancelled there is 25% risk of losing fees altogether. Why should interpreters take the shortfall for everyone else’s mistakes, inefficiencies in the system and contractors greed? Deaf interpreters report their terms and conditions are being pushed even more than other interpreters when their skills should be valued. 

For specialist services, 6.2% of requests were not filled due to the supplier. 0.5% of all bookings were filled off contract by either direct bookings or other agencies. Let’s see these numbers go up and this contract undermined.

When we see stats like this, it is time we all started showing each other some solidarity, standing up for all of us as a collective and refusing to take this any more. Agencies and the government can not do this without us. 

What we do not know yet is how widespread the effect this contract is having on the deaf people who have a right to access the justice system. Until an effective system is in place what is certain is it is not just interpreters that can not survive under this contract, the access rights of Deaf people are being eroded.

Courts, continued chaos and confidentiality

Capita still holds the contract for interpreting for the courts and police despite further and regular failings. The contract was originally awarded to ALS in August 2011 and the company was bought by Capita a few months later just before the contract went live in January 2012. This five year contract, worth £75 million, has cost the public purse more than it has saved in mistrials, adjournments and wasted time.

The contract is now two years in but despite frequent and disastrous failings the Ministry of Justice still states the contract has saved the taxpayer money. There have been frequent reports about spoken language interpreters or rather those that are unqualified but work as interpreters. There is still little reported about sign language apart from what can be said on this blog.

Meanwhile… the National Audit Office investigated and reported on the contract in September 2012. A further report was released last November into the role of major contractors in the delivery of public services. A frightening half of £187 billion of total public spend, national and local, is on contractors. The UK’s infrastructure has steadily been privatised. A large percentage of that £187 billion will be going to shareholders rather than development and reinvestment in the UK’s economy.

Any argument to say that they are creating employment does not hold when the jobs provided are at a much lower quality than the ones that were available before the contracts. Capita has since eroded the quality of spoken language interpreters provided for different assignments by lowering the tier of available interpreters for certain types of work. We have seen what has happened to employment under this government: zero-hour contracts where those ’employed’ live in an insecure world of waiting until 5pm to know whether they have work the next day and a living wage currently unsupported. With the cost of living continuing to rise, the minimum wage does not cover daily expenses. A Capita paid interpreter often does not even receive the minimum wage once travel and other expenses have been factored in.

The NAO report states that three quarters of the £4 billion central government spending went to the big four contractors: G4S, Atos, Serco and Capita. As is typical with large companies there is tax avoidance. The treasury and the tax payers loses out again. The Linguist Lounge provides a good summary of the report.

Reports of spoken language interpreter failings were numerous as soon as the contract rolled out. As UK sign language bodies had campaigned successfully for a minimum standard of RSLI, stories of a drop in standards were few and far between though most Deaf professionals and experienced interpreters were aware that the sign language interpreting agency providing most of the interpreters were actively recruiting those with little or no legal experience.

We know that sign language interpreters have been paid less, agencies are still vying for work with the agency originally favoured losing out and more work is going out direct to the interpreters who market themselves as available to the courts. There is still a lack of sign language interpreting stories hitting the news as the community sticks to its tenet of confidentiality. For those not in the Deaf community, confidentiality is taken very seriously in a community where even nationally everyone knows someone who knows that person. Nevertheless, hearsay and gossip continue under the radar and they tell us standards have fallen, interpreters have not been booked for hearings and where booked, standards are generally not as good as they were. This too with several high profile cases being investigated and held concerning government access to work funding fraud.

So what now? Capita continues, badly. The Public Accounts Committee is still asking the NAO to continue investigations. And the excellent Professional Interpreters 4 Justice campaign continues. Let’s hope for a watershed moment and soon. The importance of proper interpreters was highlighted recently with viral reporting of Mandela’s memorial service interpreter with all watching and reporting hoping it would make a difference for everyone in raising standards. Perhaps those that have stories about Deaf people being denied interpreters in courts or being provided ones of a lower quality could find some way to get permission or report them for the benefit of us all.

 

Government Committee to quiz MoJ about Interpreting Contract

The Public Accounts Committee, a group of MPs who scrutinise spending of government funds by government departments, will again question MoJ representatives about the
contract for interpreting services.

The contract now owned by outsourcing giant, Capita, has not improved despite reports to the contrary and large investments by the company. Failings of the contract appear in the news nearly every day.

You can see the PAC meeting live this afternoon at 2.15pm where the CEO of Capita will be questioned.

http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=14238

You can read previous comment and analysis of the contract, previous Public Accounts Committee meetings and National Audit Office reports here.

Court interpreting update…

The latest instalment of the largest interpreting contract ever awarded in the UK and its disastrous consequences:

As a result of the Justice Committee Report last year Capita announced that from 1st May rates would be raised for:

Cancellations – an interpreter, rather than receiving nothing previously, will be paid £21 for a cancellation of up to 24 hours. This includes multi-day bookings.

A mileage payment of £0.20 (twenty pence per mile) for the entire distance travelled per assignment including the first ten miles (which was not paid previously).

The minimum payment of one hour is unchanged: £16 for a tier 3 interpreter. (check!!). Extra payments will be made for 15 minute blocks which amount to an extra 7 minutes pay or £2.56.

An incidental fee of £7.50 to cover any additional costs. In Capita’s announcement there was no explanation to what this may cover and when it would be paid.

In a parliamentary announcement by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), it was stated that these incentives would increase the take home pay of interpreters by 22% but the feeling is too little, too late.

How have this incentives been paid for? From savings of £16.7 million the MoJ have stated they are reinvesting £2.9 million back into the contract. This neither makes sense nor is practical. Were the contract working it would not need further investment by the MoJ. Essentially this is taxpayers’ savings that are being reinvested, except the supposed savings still do not add up when you factor in the costs of delays, adjournments and mistrials. One figure suggests it costs £110 per minute to run a courtroom with a jury. Any interpreter delay, and there are many, makes a mockery out the purported savings.

Has this reinvestment worked so far? Quite simply, no. Direct calls from courts to interpreters with training, i.e. NRPSI registered interpreters still remains high. This is the true indication of the appalling nature of awarding a contract via a competitive bidding process where the lowest bidder wins regardless of quality. Capita are only filling 80% of bookings when the contract target is 98%. Still MoJ is not dishing out penalties and courts are filing few wasted costs orders. It seems that when it comes to this contract, Capita can do what it likes.

The interpreting contract is now 18 months in and whilst this mess has continued, lawyers are now in the firing line. The MoJ has proposed price-competitive tendering (PCT) for legal aid work, the ultimate aim of which is to slash budgets along with consumer choice and quality of work.

Where are British Sign Language Interpreters in all of this? Reports suggest one agency involved is attempting to slash rates even further despite original recommendations. Key personnel have left leaving court work more bereft of the most skilled and those doing the work are, also reportedly, not the best anymore. With no consistency in how BSL interpreters wish to move forward, NRPSI interpreters and campaigns are left without little representation from us. Meanwhile government decisions effecting NRPSI are having a knock on effect on BSL interpreters with many of us being none the wiser. It is time we took more notice of what is going on in the wider field of interpreting as it affects us all.

Recent Commons debate on 20th June 2013

Analysis and comment from spoken language interpreters

One Year on: The Ministry of Justice’s Failed Interpreting Contract

The latest on the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) contract, which is approaching its one year anniversary, is that the contract holders, Capita are still hanging on. From 8th January the travel costs are being slashed to 20p per mile. Travel costs were the only benefit for people accepting a job as a ‘linguist’ (their term for an untrained interpreter and insulting to real linguists). There are already grumblings.

Any clued-up interpreter knew this was due to happen and it is why the boycott has been admirably sustained by all those that are professionals and know their worth. Here follows a summary of what has happened over the last year:

  • Key interpreter organisations object to a monopoly contract and point out what should be the minimum standards as already set up in the National Agreement.
  • ALS awarded contract by promising unsustainable savings despite protests.
  • ALS offers interpreters greatly reduced payments for working in courts.
  • Professional interpreters refuse to work under these conditions for ludicrously low payments.
  • The courts are thrown into chaos with many bookings unfilled and courts experiencing many adjournments and delays.
  • Bonuses are paid to entice anyone to accept work (£5 extra for accepting an online booking) and mileage and payments are increased to entice ‘linguists’ to court.
  • Untrained, unqualified speakers of other languages, sometimes those who do not even speak the languages they say they do, start to work for the contract.
  • Reports are numerous amongst interpreters and reach the UK media of linguists travelling miles to rack up travel payments.
  • Courts continue to experience severe delays.
  • Capita takes over ALS and pays £7.5 million and invests a further £5.4 million.
  • Several ALS and Capita personnel leave including ex-Chief Executive Gavin Wheeldon.
  • Parliamentary hearings confirm what everybody knew: the contract holders know nothing about interpreting or the standards that were put in place before the contract removed them.
  • From instructions set out by the Public Accounts Committee, Capita start to CRB check the ‘linguists’ registered on its database, check whether they actually have qualifications and start to tighten up checks. These were fairly non-existent until this point.
  • A year after the contract starts mileage rates slashed to 20p per mile and effort is made to find local personnel, the contract promised that interpreters would be sourced from within a 25 mile radius, but with the payments originally offered this did not happen.

The next chapter in this story will surely be that no-one will work for Capita at the proposed rates. £16 – £22 per hour for a court job, with many being classed at the £16 per hour level – if someone paid out more than they were allowed to claim and travelled far to attend a job, Capita’s so-called linguists would be working for less than the minimum wage. The MoJ surely could not expect professionals for those prices and professionals it does not get. The courts have seen a parade of second-jobbers standing in for professional interpreters including hotel staff walking out of courts before hearings are finished to get back to their real jobs, reports of mis-interpretations abound and ‘linguists’ who do not speak their stated languages.

Capita’s website reveals no mention of standards, of registration (NRPSI or NRCPD), of minimum levels of qualifications, of CRB checks, Codes of Conduct or professional indemnity insurance. The only word they use is ‘qualified’. In what exactly, it is not clear. Perhaps anything other than languages or even interpreting, going by the personnel they are still sending to courts.

And what of Sign Language Interpreting? The contract has changed the face of interpreting mainly due to how the booking system works. The Capita monopoly just does not work. With patches of evidence of lowered standards in place it ticks over, many afraid to report bad practice due to confidentiality. More job requests are issued directly from courts and are being farmed out to agencies who have never been heard of and who may never have booked a Sign Language Interpreter. Worrying as they will not be aware of our standards of registration. With no monitoring of the contract by the MoJ this leaves us in a risky situation that has already seen influent sign language users, who are not yet registered interpreters, working in courts, despite promises by the MoJ.

There no longer seems to be a preferred supplier as the jobs that are released by Capita go out to a myriad of sign language interpreting agencies and some spoken language ones. Let us remember whenever there is a monopoly situation, the larger company inevitably uses competition between sub-contractors to drive the price down. We have seen this with another large spoken language agency and their numerous public service contracts leaving us in a situation where the least experienced interpreters are doing jobs that should be done by the most experienced such as mental health, child protection and probation.

In the courts it has been reported that some newly registered interpreters are accepting court or police work, often without any additional training. Why? Some agencies like to reassure interpreters they are capable. Less scrupulous agencies will tell an interpreter anything to fill the job. It is not their decision whether an interpreter should do the job but it is up to the interpreter in question. This practice by agencies has happened for years but newer interpreters are left ever more vulnerable by a changed economic landscape and an unwillingness to pay for support networks such as ASLI. This is how many of us learned to be professionals and to see ourselves as a collective. Let us all remind ourselves of the NRCPD’s Code of Conduct for competence: You must recognise and work within the limits of your competence, and if necessary, refer on to another proficient professional.

Although there are still experienced court interpreters working for Capita. Many are not or state they are experienced but actually are not up to the job. One of the most important skills a court interpreter should have is an ability to monitor their own output and enter into discussions about their work. If you see bad practice in courts please report it to the NRCPD. Often the Deaf clients, if vulnerable, will not be able to do so. It is our duty.

Stories abound of clients not understanding court interpreters. Perhaps interpreters are not insisting on Deaf relay interpreters when it is needed, perhaps when one is not present they do not have the skills to deliver the court proceedings in a way that the Deaf people present will understand something, no matter what their level of language or conceptual understanding. Court work is often not the same as working with a Deaf person who has such good language skills that even if you are not that good an interpreter they will do the processing for you whilst you sign something vaguely relevant to what is going on.

One reader of this blog reports: One client stated they had not understood the interpreters in court and she did not know what she had been there for, what the charge was and what the outcome of the proceedings were. When pressed by the solicitor she could not answer. The interpreter states they interpreted in more or less international sign as this was not a native user of BSL. Her companion eventually stated the charge, that she was found guilty but had not yet been sentenced.

Unfortunately this is more common than it used to be. Will our situation get worse if we too are subjected to a further drop in terms and conditions? Capita will be looking to make savings somewhere as they can not drop the rates of spoken language interpreters any more than they have. With a flat rate of £34 per hour that is not a margin that screams profit, especially not when they are being subjected to wasted costs orders by judges. With no mention of standards of BSL/English interpreting stated presumably they are covered to send anyone who can pick up their hands and pretend, much like the linguists who speak Bulgarian but interpret in Russian and which ever language they can get away with.

This is not access to justice for Deaf people and especially not for speakers of other languages. The British justice system is often seen as the fairest in the world. Just not anymore if you speak another language.

Parliament, Capita and the decline in standards of BSL Interpreting in Courts

The transcripts are all out for the three parliamentary hearings: the first by the Justice Select Committee (JSC), the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), then the second JSC hearing. They follow the National Audit Office’s report.

What do we know now? Not much is new if you have been following the contract since January. What we have seen throughout the hearings is ministers and other government personnel attempting to defend their actions or lack of them. We also saw Gavin Wheeldon (ex-owner of ALS) still accusing interpreters of intimidation. Funny seeing how in reality it was the other way round, attempting to bully interpreters into less than the minimum wage. His legal team also threatened this blog with legal action. The government are still defending the contract even though the hearings clearly expose a lack of due diligence in awarding the contract, ignorance of a basic knowledge of interpreting including procedures that should have been in place for vetting and assessments and a complete lack of monitoring. This includes not allowing court staff to give the hearing figures they know will highlight delays, wasted costs and a failing of this contract.

There seems to be some allowance for what is now Capita Interpreting and Translation to get their act together although the boycott is a strong as ever. It is not clear how they will fulfil the contract when they check everyone registered with them has qualifications, as directed, and they have none.

The Capita machine rumbles on. They have bought Reliance who provide interpreters to Sussex Police. With these types of investments it looks like Capita will not be backing out of this contract even if it costs them to fix what, perhaps, they did not know was wrong. They have their fingers in the interpreting industry pie and are too big to get burnt. The share price even went down recently due to suspected lower profit margins in the public sector. Capita report they will still have an ‘organic’ 3% increase in profits this year.

What do we know about BSL interpreting under the contract? More interpreters have been on court training, more are being approached to work in courts regardless of level of experience outside of courts. Another two agencies are putting out court bookings who have never done so before. It used to be the case that generally the safest and best interpreters worked in courts. Now it is anyone registered (and some who aren’t). Deaf professionals who work in and outside of court report a denigration of standards and witnessing interpreters who do not know how to make the language accessible for some of their clients, especially the more vulnerable or people with minimal or idiosyncratic use of sign language. Some interpreters are still working for the contract and hang on doggedly to the argument that it is better to have some experienced people in court and show the government how it is done. That would either be naivety or self interest. The government is not interested and neither are the companies it outsources too. It takes voting with your feet. It has been said on this blog before: if BSL interpreters had boycotted this contract it would have failed within weeks.

In the meantime the contract is not going away so there should be some following of some unwritten rules (and some written ones):

Do not accept court work until you have been registered for three years and you are willing to pay for shadowing and mentoring in order to be safe.

Do not do police work before you have six months worth of experience in court. It all starts at the police station and if you make mistakes there you risk the whole case and thousands of pounds of tax payers’ money.

Do not accept work for which you are not capable of doing (regardless of whether you think you have because you have been on a two day training course. This only gives you knowledge and not necessarily the skills or experience to work in courts).

Ask your colleagues to monitor you and give you feedback. There should be a rule in court that every interpreter, for solicitor, barrister or court, monitors the working interpreter and flags up errors. I have had many conversations with experienced court interpreters who note that the role of the solicitor or barrister’s interpreter is misunderstood. You need to be good enough to monitor the court interpreter and confident enough to flag up those errors following the protocols of a court room. Even the court interpreting team should be monitoring each other, feeding each other and discussing their interpreting in breaks. This is especially true during evidence where you should be monitoring the way questions are interpreted as well as the response and how it is interpreted back into English. If you are not willing to accept feedback and enter into open discussions about your work, you should not be anywhere near a courtroom. Even if you have been working for courts for a while.

If you see an interpreter working in courts who does not have the appropriate skill level, whether you are a professional attending court, a Deaf person involved in the court process or another interpreter please inform them of your observations. If you need to, put in a complaint to the NRCPD. Interpreters who decide to work in courts should do so on the understanding that being subjected to a complaint is a reality. Not enough people are complaining about interpreters as they feel it breaks confidentiality. It does not. The complaint stays with the panel and those who already know the details of the situation. It is about time we all signed up to a certain level of transparency.

Lastly, read through the hearing transcripts. Do you really want to work in courts and be associated with this mess? Do you want to be responsible for a Deaf client not receiving access to justice? Or will you insist you are fine to work in a court and be like the interpreter who cost a 63 year old man £10k? Not only do you have your reputation at stake but the knowledge you are contributing to a wider continuation of a decline in interpreting standards and our terms and conditions.