Customer Service Manual - Section 8 : Customers with Special Needs

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Customers With Special Needs

Introduction

Among the Valuation Office Agency’s current core values are;

  • Fairness and Impartiality
  • Seeking excellence from diversity

We will treat all our customers fairly and impartially regardless of their race, colour or disability, religion or belief, sexual orientation, age, or gender.

Legislation

The legislation on Age, Disability, Gender, Race and Equality (Duty) are covered on our Intranet and the various Schemes are published on our website.

This provides us with the opportunity to consider the diversity of our customers and offer a range of alternative methods of accessing our services to better meet our customers needs.

Communicating with Customers

We are committed to improving our customer service by communicating with customers in the format/language of their choice. Where a choice has been indicated to the local office then the file will be noted so that future communication can be made in the chosen format, wherever possible. In addition we offer most of our information in large print on request.

Large Print

Documents and forms can be enlarged in the local office by using photocopiers or by using a larger size font on the word processing software. The following advice from the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) is useful when writing letters to partially sighted recipients.

  • size – type should be 14 point or larger and medium or bold weight. Avoid light or indistinct typefaces; ask the customer what point size they need
  • contrast – stick to black on white paper
  • design - keep it simple, use clear headings
  • spacing – keep word spacing even
  • type - that is ranged left with a ragged right hand
  • margin - is easier to read than justified type.
  • spacing - make sure there is adequate spacing between lines and paragraphs, and between columns of text
  • capitals – are harder to read than lower case letters, only use for one or two words at a time.
  • numbers - it is important to ensure that numerals are as distinct as possible. Blind and partially sighted people can easily misread 3, 5 and 8 in some typefaces and even 0 and 6
  • Line length - between 50 and 65 characters is ideal. Don’t split words at the end of lines
  • Paper – use matt paper. Glossy surfaces cause problems due to reflection. Avoid thin paper which allows show through from the reverse

Audio Tapes / CD ROM

All VOA offices can provide a recording of correspondence, if requested, in the preferred format.

For example an audio can be provided using a basic tape recorder and standard cassette tapes. Someone who speaks slowly and clearly will make the recordings, and the recording will be checked before it is sent to the customer. A signed hard copy of the correspondence will be sent with the audiocassette to the customer, as it may be useful to them. A hard copy should also be kept in the case file. If the office does not possess a tape recorder this should be purchased locally (they can be bought for a reasonable sum, about £20).

Contact our Communications Team to arrange copies of information in other formats.

Braille

HM Revenue and Customs’ Visually Impaired Media Unit (VIMU) offer a Braille transcription service. Contact our Communications Team to arrange translations.

Avoid using whole words or headings in capital letters as this requires additional “code” in Braille.

Wherever possible, send the letter as a word document, as this avoids retyping work.

There is a facility through HM Revenue and Customs (VIMU) for the Braille to be produced in Welsh. Contact the VIMU for guidance.

Signing

Some customers may express the wish to communicate through British Sign Language (BSL). The DDA requires service providers to "take such steps as are reasonable in the circumstances of the case" to accommodate them.

For example:

  • The customer may be able to provide a friend or relative as an interpreter
  • Some members of staff may be able to use BSL
  • Offices can make arrangements with local associations for deaf people
  • It may be necessary to engage a professional interpreter

Because of the element of confidentiality the customer must agree to the use of any intermediary from outside the VOA.

British Sign Language Proficiencies

  • Level One - A basic knowledge of sign language - able to greet and hold simple discussions
  • Level Two - A good working knowledge - suitable for less complex discussions
  • Level Three - Fluent - able to deal with more complicated matters

For detailed discussions in sign language we must bear in mind that fluency is an important factor. As with any language it can be tiring and frustrating to deal with someone who signs slowly and does not have a near perfect knowledge of vocabulary and grammar.

The Welsh Language

The Agency is committed to a bilingual policy and will provide a Welsh Language service whenever required. It will respond to correspondence in Welsh in the same language and Welsh speakers and translation facilities will be available to all offices in Wales. Translation of all customer facing materials into Welsh is managed centrally through the Communications and Customer Insight Team.

Languages other than English and Welsh

The Agency is committed to replying to customers in the language used by the customer. Local VOA offices should make sure appropriate and cost effective arrangements are in place for the language needs in their area. Staff who speak other languages, and are prepared to act as translators, should make this known to local management, so they may be called upon to translate either by telephone or face to face, at the office or at the taxpayer’s premises. Local Authorities and Universities may also be able to help in this respect.

Language Line

The VOA has been using Language Line’s services since 1999. The principal service used is their telephone interpreting facility. Telephone interpreting is a simple and effective process. Instead of arranging for a traditional face-to-face interpreter to be present in the room, Language Line connects you to an interpreter by telephone. The interpreters are connected in as little as 30 seconds. You speak in English and the interpreter repeats what you have said to your client in his or her language directly over the telephone. The service is accessible from any telephone in any location. It can also be used when you make and receive calls from clients via conference calls. Further information regarding language line can be found on the Customer Service Page on the Intranet.

Invoices received for translation work and specialist typing, in languages other than English and Welsh, should be authorised and certified that the required service has been supplied, before payment can be made from the group budget.

Assisting Disabled Taxpayers and other external customers with mobility problems

If offices are not accessible to customers with mobility problems, alternative arrangements should be made. This might include having an interview room on the ground floor of your building or making a home visit.

You should aim to see disabled customers who call within 5 minutes. This is a VOA standard, which applies to all visitors.

If a disabled customer asks for a home visit by a member of staff and the matter cannot easily be dealt with over the telephone, or in writing, this service should be provided. Because of the nature of our work this can often be incorporated with our inspection of the property but in some circumstances it may be necessary to make an additional visit.

The person carrying out the visit should be sufficiently knowledgeable and experienced to provide the assistance required. Staff should follow the normal procedures and safeguards as when carrying out normal inspection duties. The customer should always be asked if he or she wishes to have a friend or relative in the home during the visit.

Where refurbishments are being undertaken offices should ensure that access for disabled people is considered. Advice on how to make offices more accessible for disabled customers can be provided by Accommodation Officers.

For more information take a look at Positive About Disabled People on the Intranet.

Other assistance/services to help customers with special needs

The following gives advice on the other services, which offices should provide to help taxpayers and other external customers with special needs.

Customers value privacy. All offices should have a room available for private discussion and this facility should be highlighted to customers. Standard height armchairs should be provided in interview rooms and seating areas as people with restricted movement find these easier to use, than low seating.

Personal assistance for customers with special needs. You may complete forms and returns for customers who are unable to do so personally. People who may make this request may be:

  • Blind or partially sighted
  • Have physical disabilities which prevent them from writing easily, for example arthritis
  • Have learning difficulties
  • Have difficulty with reading and writing
  • Do not speak or read English easily

If you have any doubt whether you should assist in the completion of a form, tactfully seek your manager’s or a colleague’s advice.

If you do complete a form for a customer with a special need:

  • Make it clear that the customer is still responsible for the accuracy and completeness of the entries you have made on the form
  • Give the form to the customer to read through or go through it step by step with the person so that they understand and agree with the entries you have made.
  • The customer should then sign the form. If he or she makes their mark you should witness by inserting below the mark the customer’s name the words “His/Her mark, witnessed (your full name)

Make a note and keep it in the wallet with the form, or staple it to the form to say you have completed it for the customer and sign and date the note. Place a note on file or in the case wallet to record the interview to say why/how you have assisted the customer.

Co-ordination

The DDA (Disability Discrimination Act) applies to everyone and we recommend that Customer Service Managers and Accommodation Officers work together to ensure that knowledge and expertise about the needs of people with disabilities are shared. It is also useful to consult disabled members of staff.

Monitoring The Standards

The Agency will talk to groups of people who use our services. GVO’s and District Valuers, should meet with professional bodies and trade associations to discuss the service we provide. Any suggestions and complaints raised at these meetings should be sent to the Head of Customer Services at CEO, who will tell local VOA offices where changes need to be made.

The Agency welcomes complaints as an opportunity to put things right and improve the service we provide. Full details are found in this manual in the section headed "Complaints".

Complaints

If customers with disabilities are unhappy with the service they receive from the VOA they can complain to the officer in charge and if they are not satisfied they take this through the VOA complaints procedure. Disabled people also have the right to take a case to county court (in England and Wales) or Sheriff Court (in Scotland) for injury to their feelings if they have been discriminated against.

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