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Fluency in English and public sector jobs

Updated: Feb 17

Did you know that in order for a person to get a customer-facing job in the public service, they must now speak fluent English? What implications does this have for employers? Find out in our article.

From September 2015, public sector jobs involving dealing directly with the public have been closed to applicants who do not speak fluent English.

This includes NHS staff and council workers, police officers, social workers and teaching assistants and the definition of fluent English has been confirmed as language skills equivalent to a Grade C in GCSE English.

The proposals form part of the government’s Immigration Bill and will be rolled out across England, Scotland and Wales. The Scottish and Welsh governments would be involved in the details of the plans.

Managers will be required to test employees’ command of English to ensure that their staff can communicate effectively with the public.

The Office of National Statistics says that 8% of the UK population do not have English as their main language. Of that 8% (4,164,000), 1.7 million speak English very well, 1.6 million speak it well, 726,000 have some English and 138,000 speak no English.

After a period of consultation, the government will produce guidance in a code of practice that will inform organisations on how to test their employees.

In the case of existing employees who are not sufficiently fluent, they may be given time to improve their language competence.

Standards of English already exist for doctors working in the UK, with tests administered by the Genera Medical Council.

We will continue to monitor the situation and when the government’s code of practice is published, we will advise employers on the best way to conduct tests for their employees in order to remain within the law.

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