FOLLOWING pressure applied by SDLP Deputy Leader Nichola Mallon and representatives of the deaf community, registered sign language interpreters will now be available during PIP assessments for those with hearing difficulties.

Previously, trainee interpreters were made available raising concerns about the accuracy of assessments, given the reliance on exact responses from claimants to assessor questioning.

The North Belfast MLA said that the move was a small victory for a community facing mutiple barriers in trying to access their entitlement to the new Personal Independence Payment.

She said: “Following pressure from the SDLP and the deaf community, I’m pleased that the Department for Communities has reviewed its processes and that starting from this week, Capita will provide NRCPD registered sign language interpreters upon request for claimants from the deaf community at all PIP assessments.

“I have been in touch with a number of PIP claimants who have been put on a reduced amount or turned down for this benefit based on assessments carried out with trainee interpreters; a factor which they believe was critical in the decision making process.

“The provision of registered and fully qualified sign language interpreters is a welcomed step but it is long overdue.

“I am calling on the Department for Communities to now offer the option of a reassessment with a registered interpreter to all claimants who had assessments carried out by trainees.

“I also welcome confirmation from the Department, in response to concerns raised by the SDLP and BDA NI, that it is exploring the feasibility of deploying a Video Relay Service for deaf people contacting PIP in the first instance.

“This much needed service would facilitate direct and immediate responsive contact, all in sign language via a video-link, for claimants with any queries.

“There are many flaws in the PIP process but the deaf community is one which faces more barriers than most from the point before they even apply.

“These changes are a small victory. We will however continue to push for further changes to ensure the needs and dignity of all vulnerable claimants are at the centre.”

Terry Riley OBE Chair of the British Deaf Association said: 

“We are very pleased to hear that Capita have listened to the concerns of the BDA and the deaf community and as a consequence they will be taking a proactive approach to ensure that Deaf people have full access to appropriately qualified sign language interpreters at all PIP assessments, and taking steps to start ensuring that all stages are accessible in British Sign Language (BSL) & Irish Sign Language (ISL).

“It is great to see that Capita are working with the BDA Northern Ireland Office  to make a real difference for the Deaf community.

“This first step of this unique working cooperation can only benefit both the Deaf community and Capita.”

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