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Employment A-Z



Language Requirements

The Immigration Bill received Royal Assent on 13 May 2016 becoming the Immigration Act 2016. The duty to require public sector workers in customer facing roles to be able to speak fluent English (or Welsh in Wales) came into force on Monday, 21st November 2016.

Part 7 of the Immigration Act 2016 requires people who work in the public sector in customer-facing roles to speak fluent English (or, in Wales, English or Welsh). Employees, apprentices, people engaged under a contract to do work personally and agency workers are included within the scope of the provisions.

The provisions apply to public authorities, defined in the Act as having "functions of a public nature". Those employed in private- or voluntary-sector organisations that provide services to public bodies are not affected, although the Act allows for contractors to be included in future.

The provisions extend to England and to non-devolved functions in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland but do not apply to workers whose work is carried out wholly or mainly outside the UK.

A person who works in a customer-facing role is someone who, as a "regular and intrinsic part of [his or her] role", is required to speak to members of the public in English. 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.

In Wales, the requirement is to speak fluent English or Welsh.

The Act requires public authorities to have adequate procedures in place to enable complaints about breaches of these requirements to be made and considered.

Public authorities must consider the statutory Code of Practice on the English language requirement for public-sector workers (currently in draft form) when determining both how to comply with their obligation to ensure that customer-facing workers speak fluent English and whether or not their complaints procedure is adequate. It gives examples of the public authorities caught by the provisions, namely: central government departments; non-departmental public bodies; public corporations; councils and other local government bodies, NHS bodies; state-funded schools; the police; and the armed forces.

The code makes clear that public authorities need to determine the standard of fluency required on a role-by-role basis. It also provides principles and criteria to help employers set the relevant standard of fluency, such as the frequency, topic and length of spoken interaction.

Public-sector organisations that are in scope should ensure that recruitment policies and practices and, where appropriate, job descriptions and employee specifications, include the English language requirement. This is to meet the Government's stated aim in the code of "meeting the public's reasonable expectation to be able to speak English when accessing public services".

When determining the level of fluency required for customer-facing roles, employers should take care not to apply higher standards than are necessary. An employer that requires a job applicant to speak English to a high standard of fluency may be committing an act of indirect race discrimination under s.19 of the Equality Act 2010, if the requirement cannot be justified (see Circumstances in which criteria and conditions can be discriminatory). Therefore, employers need to ensure that the requirement to speak English is appropriate, necessary and not excessive in relation to the relevant job duties.


During policy development a New Burdens Assessment was conducted and it was determined that each Local Authority would receive an amount for the assessed burden.

The amount to be paid is £477.00 on 30th January 2017 and DCLG is administering this payment on behalf of Cabinet Office.

If you have any queries regarding this payment please contact in the first instance.