Ensuring deaf customers can access services from DWP

Section 23 agreement with DWP

In August 2020, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) entered into a legally binding agreement with us to improve support for deaf customers accessing its services by telephone, and to improve its approach to providing reasonable adjustments for other disabled customers. The agreement was for a period of 12 months and has now concluded.


Two advisers raised a complaint with us on behalf of four hearing-impaired people who needed a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter to help them to access a DWP service advising customers on home loan applications.

All four disabled people faced difficulties in dealing with staff from DWP and its agent, Serco, because they did not know how to arrange the interpreting service. The result of this was that only one out of the four disabled customers managed to book an interpreter, and only after three months of difficulty.

Why we were involved

Disabled people must be able to access the same services as other users. BSL interpreters and other reasonable adjustments are essential for deaf people when trying to access phone services.

What we did

In its agreement with us, the DWP agreed to an action plan to address the problems these complaints identified to ensure that all disabled customers across the whole of the DWP service could access the appropriate reasonable adjustments they need, and understand how to request such access arrangements. The action plan committed DWP to:

  • Provide a Video Relay Service across telephony services for all benefits and services. This enables deaf users to contact DWP via video relay using an interpreter
  • Ensure customers can easily locate what they need in order to request information in alternative accessible formats
  • Improve their customer information system so disabled people’s communication needs are recorded and shared
  • Improve the use of Equality Analysis in the design and delivery of all changes.

What happened

We monitored DWP’s action plan on a monthly basis to ensure the agreed steps were completed. The agreement has delivered some important improvements to DWP services, including:

  • The Video Relay Service for British Sign Language users, which was previously only available for Disability Services, has now been successfully expanded to all DWP service lines.
  • Respondents surveyed were found to be ‘very satisfied’ with the overall service and the majority of respondents also found it ‘very easy’ to use.
  • DWP also engaged with external stakeholders and used the insight gathered to develop a central web page on GOV.UK providing information about available reasonable adjustments. The page is available here: Get help with benefits and pensions if you have accessibility needs.

  • DWP has improved its processes to record, update and use the additional needs on its IT systems. It supported these improved processes by providing additional benefit specific instructions and raising staff awareness through various internal communication channels. This has helped to significantly raise awareness of the importance of identifying, recording and sharing customer needs across DWP.

  • DWP also took a number of steps to improve its approach to Equality Analysis including improving the guidance, training and support available to staff across the Department. This will help ensure officials are consciously thinking about the aims of the Equality Duty as part of the process of decision-making.

Who will benefit and how

DWP administers benefits and services to around 20 million claimants and customers and services need to be accessible for all.

The changes DWP have made under the agreement will improve access to its services for disabled people, but also improve the ability of DWP staff to understand what adjustments are required and how to make them. These adjustments have improved the quality of DWP services and helped disabled people access the help and support available for everyone.

Date of outcome

“Over the course of this agreement, we have worked collaboratively with the EHRC to improve services for deaf people and those with hearing loss.

We will continue to raise equality awareness through education and staff engagement. This will ensure inclusive services are designed to support all customers.
DWP is committed to providing the best possible support for all our customers, including the consideration of reasonable adjustments for customers with a disability or health condition.”

DWP spokesperson

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