De-professionalisation of Public Service Interpreting in the UK
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has signed a contract under a Framework Agreement (FWA) with Applied Language Solutions (ALS). The new system came into effect on 30.01.2012 and is now being used in all the courts in England and Wales (criminal, civil and family courts, tribunals and prisons) and in some Constabularies.
The significant reduction in terms and conditions offered to public service interpreters under this contract has proven to be a major disincentive and is not by any means sufficient to attract and retain professional interpreters. Contrary to unfounded claims from former Justice Minister Crispin Blunt that interpreters earned six figure salaries, a survey conducted in 2011 by the Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIoL) and the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) found that the average public service interpreter earnings were £15,700. When one adds in the additional disincentives of no pension, holiday pay or sick pay, as well as no job security, it is unthinkable to assume that the rates of pay and costs are suitable. It is implicit that the service is going to deteriorate because of the quality of interpreters who will work at these rates.
Professional interpreters are simply not prepared to work for the terms and conditions on offer.
Many are moving away from public service interpreting altogether, which means a further reduction in the pool of qualified interpreters. They have lost all confidence in the continued recognition and protection of the interpreter in this outsourcing to a commercial agency whose main aim will always be to increase their own profits. Confirmation of this can be seen in the survey undertaken on behalf of the profession in August 2012.
This outsourcing has proven to be detrimental to the sustainability and development of the public service profession, to the supply of qualified interpreters and translators, and to the delivery of justice. Unless remedial action is taken soon, it will take several years to restore the quality of interpreting services for the courts in the UK.
Comparison of rates of pay to court interpreters
Applied Language Solutions (ALS) and National Agreement (NA)
There are very few of us who can afford to work full-time as a public service interpreter with the possibility of only earning £13.32 in a day (before tax).
The calculations below show that ALS does not even guarantee a rate equal to the minimum wage and at best the gross hourly rate for half a day at court has been reduced by 57.85%.
Interpreter travelling from NW London to Westminster Magistrates’ Court
*Gross hourly rates for self-employed interpreters liable to pay Income Tax and National Insurance, who have no pension, holiday or sick pay and no job security.
 Nearby car park: Bell St. http://www.lrparking.com/tariffs
 Fuel calculator: http://www.fuel-economy.co.uk/calc.shtml
Approx. Journey Cost on 22/9/12: £5.28 (29 miles, estimated MPG 35, Fuel Cost: 140.15 pence/Litre)
- According to the AA, the cost of running a petrol car costing up to £14,000 is 45.91p per mile; for petrol cars costing between £14,000 and £17,000 this rises to 59.83p (assumed annual mileage of 10,000) (2012 figures).
An ALS interpreter classified under Tier 2, on an assignment for the minimum period of an hour, travel time within the 2 hour limit and travelling 29 miles return would be paid £23.60, and after deduction of £10.28 expenses is left with £13.32. Therefore, for the 3 hours spent on the assignment, the hourly rate of pay works out at £4.44 per hour (before tax). In the event of accepting the booking on-line, a £5 supplement becomes payable in which case the hourly rate would be £6.11 (before tax).
The National Minimum Wage (NMW) is £6.08. The NMW is for those on 'low pay'.
This indicates that public service interpreting is no longer considered a skilled profession by the MoJ, but has been reduced to become part of the low-paying industries.
Payments to interpreters under the National Agreement
Prior to the introduction of the Ministry of Justice’s Framework Agreement and the outsourcing to ALS court interpreters were paid in accordance with the standardised fees and terms and conditions set by the National Agreement on Arrangements for the use of interpreters within the CJS (as revised in 2007)
Minimum attendance fee: £85 for 3 hours attendance (excluding travelling time)
Additional attendance: £7.50 per quarter hour or part thereof after the first 3 hours
Travel time: £3.75 per quarter hour or part thereof
Mileage: 25 pence per mile
Parking expenses: reimbursed
Public transport expenses: reimbursed
A cancellation fee equal to the minimum attendance fee was payable if the booking was cancelled after 10.00 am on the working day before it was due and no replacement was offered.
Payments to interpreters under the Framework Agreement
Applied Language Solutions assigns foreign language interpreters in three tiers and pays associated (supposedly) non-negotiable payment rates of £16, £20 and £22.
Court interpreting is classified as Tier Two:
Minimum attendance fee: £20 for 1 hour attendance
Additional attendance: not specified (£20 per hour pro-rata per minute?)
Travel time: Interpreters are not paid for travel time if total return journey time is less than two hours. £10 per hour is paid if total journey time exceeds one hour each way.
Mileage: 40 pence per mile for mileage in excess of 10 miles travelled each way
Parking expenses: ALS does not cover the cost of car parking charges.
Public transport: ALS does not reimburse the cost of train or bus tickets or any other mode of transport, calculating the journey as if the trip had been made by car.
£5 supplement for every booking accepted through any of the automation methods
No cancellation fee.