Welsh language scheme

How we take account of Welsh language needs when we provide services to the public in Wales (Asiantaeth y Swyddfa Brisio – Cynllun Iaith Gymraeg 2021).


Introduction

Foreword

The Valuation Office Agency is proud to be a progressive, forward-thinking, and constantly improving organisation. A huge part of that development revolves around accessibility, and ensuring that all our customers have access to the very best support we can offer them. With this in mind, I am pleased to introduce the Agency’s new Welsh Language Scheme.

The aim of the Scheme is not only to fulfil our legal requirements, but to ensure a parity of quality between our Welsh and English services – this means setting the same exacting expectations of our services in both languages and clearly demonstrating how we aim to deliver our legal responsibilities in Wales.

A great deal of hard work across the Agency has gone into producing this new Scheme and refreshing our entire approach to the Welsh Language. We’ve worked on feedback and insight from Operational colleagues and Welsh speakers, and combined it with ideas from our Policy teams in order to craft a fully rounded, new approach to Welsh.

We will be moving into the new regional hub in Cardiff in 2021, strengthening our commitment to having a visible and physical presence in Wales. We are always working to make a difference and build a better VOA, and this is an important step in that ongoing journey.

I am pleased to be carrying on this work and I take great pride in overseeing the delivery of our services in Welsh.

Jonathan Russell CB

Interim Chief Executive Officer and Chief People Officer

About the VOA

Who we are and our role

  1. The Valuation Office Agency (VOA) is an Executive Agency of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC). Our Chief Executive is a member of HMRC’s Executive Committee.
  2. We are the public sector’s property valuation experts and advisers, providing impartial valuations on around 2.1 million non-domestic property and council tax banding to around 26.1 million domestic properties across England and Wales. We are a non-ministerial Executive Agency and our decision-making on valuations is entirely independent and impartial.
  3. Non-Domestic Rating and Council Tax policy is devolved to the Welsh Government and we maintain the Council Tax and Non-Domestic Rating Lists in Wales on behalf of Welsh Billing Authorities. This accounts for 121,000 non-domestic and 1.4 million domestic properties.
  4. This work is set out in a Service Level Agreement (SLA) between the VOA and the Welsh Government. The SLA covers our objectives and performance targets with regard to property in Wales and also includes our commitment to provide a Welsh language service for our customers who wish to transact their business with us in Welsh.
  5. We employ around 3,300 staff with around 250 of those based in Wales. We have offices in Cardiff, Carmarthen, Swansea and Wrexham. We also have a number of home-based staff in Wales.
  6. You can find more information on the Agency, what we do, and our statutory duties on our website.

Our Scheme

  1. This Scheme is prepared under Section 21 of the Welsh Language Act 1993, which states that public bodies that provide services to the public in Wales must prepare a Scheme specifying the measures it will take to treat the English and Welsh languages on a basis of equality.
  2. We recognise that our customers in Wales who wish to conduct business in Welsh, whether by written correspondence, email or telephone, must be given the opportunity to do so and should be treated no less favourably than customers who wish to interact with us in English.

Policy Development

  1. We aim to deliver a professional and high-quality service for all of our customers and our Welsh language service shares this aspiration. All services in Welsh should be of the same standard as our English language services.
  2. Our previous Scheme, published in December 2006, requires an update to reflect changes in how we deliver our services. This document builds on our previous commitment and sets out the principles we will adopt when providing services to our Welsh speaking customers.
  3. Any form of contact with the public in Wales that falls outside of this Scheme will be undertaken in a manner which is consistent with the general principles of the Scheme and the Welsh Language Act 1993.
  4. This Scheme acknowledges that the Welsh language has official status in Wales, as enshrined by the Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011. This legislation also established the freedom to use Welsh in Wales without interference from others, and the VOA acknowledges this freedom.
  5. This Scheme was approved by the Welsh Language Commissioner on 11 March 2021 and comes into effect on 1 April 2021.

Data Protection

  1. This Scheme, along with all of the Agency’s services will be delivered in line with the joint HMRC and VOA Privacy Policy. This policy sets out the principles that we apply in our day-to-day work. We will ensure that any personal data we hold on our customers in Wales, whether it is held in Welsh or English, is treated in the same way and ensure that any data we may keep on language choice is consistent with the Policy.

Reviewing and amending the Scheme

  1. The Scheme will be reviewed every two years and the first review will take place no later than 1 April 2023. In addition, amendments to this Scheme will be considered sooner than 1 April 2023 in the event of changes to the legislative requirements or how our services are delivered in Wales. This Scheme will not be amended without prior approval by the Welsh Language Commissioner.

Service Planning and Delivery

Delivery of Services

  1. The Agency aspires to provide all of our services for Non-Domestic Rating and Council Tax in Welsh. This Scheme affirms our commitment and the principles we will adopt when providing our services.
  2. Whilst we will aspire to provide all of our Welsh language services in the same timeframe as those in English, we must recognise that this might not always be possible where, for example, esoteric valuation expertise or complex legal advice is required.
  3. In these rare cases, we will ensure that these services are delivered in a reasonable timeframe for a customer and in line with any statutory obligations on the Agency.
  4. In the event that our services are not available in Welsh by default, we will ensure there are arrangements in place to enable our customers to be able to transact their business with us in the Welsh language. These arrangements will be clearly published alongside any document or service that is not Welsh by default.
  5. In order to improve our Welsh language services and deliver the commitments in this Scheme, we have established a dedicated Welsh Language Team to deal with customer contact, translation and support with our wider service delivery.
  6. This team will be a key component in our efforts to build and improve our Welsh language services. We will do this by developing the valuation knowledge of our staff in customer service and the Welsh language skills of our technical staff.
  7. Over time, we will develop a single pool of Welsh speakers that can be deployed flexibly and provide support across the Agency’s Welsh operations.
  8. We will also work with our parent department, other government departments and the Welsh Language Commissioner to provide cross-pollination of best practice to ensure our customers receive a professional and reliable service.

Policy Development

  1. The Agency is supported by Strategy and Policy teams that are responsible for advising our Executive Committee on matters which have an impact across our services.
  2. Where possible, we will look to design our policies in a way that encourages the use of Welsh when customers transact their business with us. All new policies and initiatives that change the way our services operate will also consider their impact on our Welsh speaking customers. This will ensure that the needs of Welsh speaking customers are considered early in the policy making process and any changes are mindful of our commitments in this Scheme.
  3. We will consider what effects (if any) the proposed policy decision could have on opportunities for persons to use the Welsh language, and ensure the policy is treating the Welsh language no less favourably than the English language.
  4. When we work with or are asked to provide advice to other departments, public bodies and the Welsh Government we will ensure that we are mindful of our obligations under the Welsh Language Act 1993, the Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011, our commitments in this Scheme and potential impacts to our customers who wish to transact their business with us through the Welsh language.

Valuation and appeals

  1. Customers in Wales have the right to conduct all business with the Agency in Welsh should they choose. Both our [online service to check a customer’s Council Tax band process are available online entirely in Welsh. These processes form the core of our revaluation work, and means we can accept data from customers no matter their language preference. Customers can also submit their initial enquiries about their non-domestic valuation in Welsh, either by email or telephone.
  2. We will ensure that any communication with a customer regarding their valuation is in Welsh where they have indicated that it is their preference, and we will be able to explain any valuation decisions that we have made either in writing or verbally through the medium of Welsh.
  3. Valuation is a complex matter, and we have Welsh-speaking colleagues available to guide customers through any dealings with us. If a site visit is required, we have the ability to provide a Welsh-speaking Valuation Surveyor, and we can also present at Valuation Tribunals in Welsh.
  4. If for any reason, a Welsh speaker is not immediately available to correspond with a customer about the detail of their valuation, we will arrange a suitable time for this to happen.
  5. We regularly attend the Valuation Tribunal for Wales (VTW) to contest property valuation appeals in Wales. Valuation Tribunals are organised and led by VTW, and these meetings are held in accordance with the VTW Welsh Language Standards.
  6. If it is requested that the Tribunal shall be conducted in Welsh, we will consider the availability of suitable Welsh-speaking staff and make arrangements to attend with Welsh Language representation.

Information and Communication Technology

  1. We are in the process of digital integration with our parent department, HMRC. This includes the day-to-day devices used by staff and our digital infrastructure that underpin our services.
  2. In some areas, we rely on legacy systems to conduct our business. Some of these systems predate the Welsh Language Act 1993 and some are unable to work bilingually. Where possible, systems that are able automatically produce documents for customers in Welsh will continue to do so. Where this is not possible, we will ensure that there are processes in place to provide these services through other means.
  3. In the event that we are designing new or updating any of our existing digital systems, we will work with the Welsh Government to ensure that the needs of our Welsh language customers are built into our specifications at an early stage.

Partnership Working and Procurement

  1. When we tender business exclusively in Wales, we will offer the tender in both English and Welsh where it is deemed appropriate.
  2. On occasions that we work with others to deliver a service in Wales, tenders will make specific reference to this Scheme, and we will ensure full awareness of this Scheme, and encourage any supplier to be compliant with the measures we have detailed.
  3. Any formal agreements will make reference to this and we will hold our partners to account for service delivery in Welsh through the reporting mechanisms/performance management procedures.

Translation services

  1. In the first instance, translation between Welsh and English will be dealt with by our dedicated Welsh language centre and colleagues across the Agency who have the confidence and ability to deal with customers through the medium of Welsh.
  2. To help deliver this Scheme, we have introduced an arrangement with our parent department to utilise its Welsh Language Team to support us to translate key documents and services for our Welsh language customers.
  3. Our Welsh Language Team will work with its counterpart in HMRC to facilitate and quality-assure any translations to ensure our customers receive a service in line with this Scheme and our statutory obligations.
  4. We will continue to engage independent interpretation or translation services as required.

Communicating with the public

  1. Communicating with our customers is vitally important to all of our services and we have a responsibility to conduct our business in a fair, equal and accessible way.
  2. Our primary methods of communicating with the public are telephone, written and digital correspondence, and through our website.
  3. We provide a number of contact points that are available bilingually to ensure that our Welsh speaking customers receive the same treatment as those who use our English medium services.

Telephone Communication

  1. There is a dedicated VOA telephone number for properties in Wales. This number is 03000 505505. Calls to this number are directed to a dedicated contact team with fluent Welsh speakers that are able to handle customer queries in Welsh and English. This allows our Welsh speaking customers to contact us in their preferred language and receive the same service as those who contact us in English.
  2. Calls to this number are answered bilingually, presenting the customer with a choice of whether they would like to deal with us in Welsh or in English. Any answerphone or automated messages on this line will also be bilingual.
  3. Calls to this line will be subject to the same performance targets as our English lines where appropriate.
  4. When a query is technical or complex and cannot be answered immediately, a reasonable timescale will be provided for answering a customer’s enquiry in Welsh.
  5. We are aiming to develop both the capacity and knowledge of our Welsh Language Team to continually improve the level of service available to our Welsh speaking customers.

Customer Correspondence

  1. Whenever a customer contacts us in Welsh, whether digitally or in writing, we will aim to reply in Welsh in the same timeframe as we would when replying in English.
  2. On occasion, it may not be possible to achieve this aim where a query is technical or complex. In these cases, we will provide a timeframe to the ratepayer explaining that the relevant technical advice must be sought and translated.
  3. Any notice or initial correspondence to customers in Wales will always be bilingual. Similarly, any enclosures will be in English and Welsh.
  4. All correspondence to addresses in Wales will include the bilingual message “Gellir ateb yn Gymraeg neu Saesneg / You may reply in Welsh or English”.
  5. Any standard, circular or “newsletter-type” correspondence in Wales will be in English and Welsh.
  6. If Welsh and English versions of any correspondence must be published separately, our normal practice will be to ensure that both versions are available at the same time.

Our Website and Publications

  1. Access to our webpage is available at <a href"www.gov.uk/government/organisations/valuation-office-agency">https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/valuation-office-agency</a>. Content within the mainstream area of .gov.uk is published by the Government Digital Service.
  2. Any new material we publish will be available, by default or by request, in Welsh and English. Both versions will be of equal size, prominence, and quality.
  3. Any new publications, and particularly those that pertain to Welsh customers, will be uploaded bilingually by default.
  4. We have begun to audit our existing documents and translate them to ensure our customers are able to access important material in their preferred language. We will continue this process to build on our progress and ensure more documents are available in Welsh by default. Where these are unavailable, and a customer requires them, we will prioritise these requests for translation.
  5. Our published material includes the “Rating Manual” and the “Council Tax Manual”. These documents detail the processes and procedures used for arriving at a property’s rateable value. Due to their length and technical complexity a full Welsh translation would be impractical at this stage. Translations of individual or relevant sections can be produced for a customer by request. We will revisit this commitment in the next review of the Scheme.
  6. When we produce separate Welsh and English language versions of a document, the English version will clearly state that a Welsh language version is also available and include a hyperlink where appropriate.

Other Dealings with the Public in Wales

  1. When we undertake any kind of public survey or research in Wales, normal practice will be to ensure that all aspects of communication with the public will be bilingual. Respondents will be asked if they wish to respond to the survey in Welsh or English from the outset.

Our staff

Staffing in Wales

  1. We aspire to deliver a professional and high quality service for all of our customers and will recruit, develop, and seek to retain staff who are competent in Welsh in order to do this.
  2. Our aim is that all Welsh language customer contact will be dealt with by our new team in Cardiff. This will initially encompass all first-line contact and, over time, we expect that this team’s influence will expand as it embeds within the Agency.

To achieve this, we will:

a. Survey our staff to establish the number, ability level and location of staff that can speak, read and write Welsh (including staff that are learning Welsh);

b. Respond to any resource shortages through targeted recruitment and training activities;

c. Identify staff who wish to learn Welsh and ensure they are supported to do so; and

d. Seek opportunities to promote the Agency’s recruitment opportunities to Welsh speakers.

Recruitment

  1. All of our recruitment is conducted through a central portal. Where we are recruiting for roles that are based solely in Wales, we will ensure that in some form the advert is available in Welsh.
  2. Where we are recruiting for Welsh speaking roles, we will ensure that the application and interview process takes place in Welsh. This process will act as an assessment of a candidate’s written and spoken Welsh.
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  4. We are committed to encouraging and supporting staff members who want to learn Welsh or improve their skills in Welsh.
  5. We have signed up to Learn Welsh to enable our staff to develop their Welsh language skills. Learn Welsh’s “Work Welsh” course has a number of levels, and we are committed to offering the full range of this training to staff. This includes a residential course to develop and practice Welsh, that is available to staff. We will support our staff to benefit from this offer whether or not they wish to speak Welsh in the work place.
  6. Where a development or resourcing need has been identified, we will support staff, whether financially or in time, to undertake learning and development to address these needs.
  7. We are providing specialist tools to staff on our intranet, centralising all Welsh language processes and guidance, providing manager’s toolkits and governance submission guidance into one hub as a point of reference for Welsh Language requirements.
  8. We will work with other government departments and public bodies to develop existing and initiate Welsh-speaking staff networks, social events and expand our L&D offer.
  9. Specialist technical training requirements, such as preparation for Valuation Tribunal, through the medium of Welsh will be assessed and can be provided as appropriate.

The Agency’s Public Face in Wales

Publicity Campaigns, Exhibitions and Advertising

  1. Any publicity, public information, exhibition and/or advertising material that we use in Wales will be produced bilingually. Both versions will be equal with regard to size, prominence, and quality and will be available simultaneously.

Corporate Identity in Wales

  1. Corporate identity is important to the Agency and we will ensure that all logos and letterheads are available in Welsh.
  2. Our offices in Wales with external signage should use a bilingual version of the Agency’s logo and any additional text should be bilingual.
  3. Any new signage provisioned in Wales will be bilingual, with Welsh and English text of equal size and prominence.

Public Meetings

  1. When we attend meetings public meetings and fora in Wales, if the meeting will be conducted through the medium of Welsh, we will endeavour to ensure the attendance of Welsh speaking colleagues.

Media Contact, Campaigns and Press Releases

  1. Press releases that are relevant to our customers in Wales will be published bilingually.
  2. We will respond to media enquiries according to the language preference of the media organisation or publication. 

Implementing and monitoring the Scheme

  1. Delivering an effective and accessible Welsh language service is the responsibility of the entire Agency and this Scheme is issued with the support of our Chief Executive Officer and Executive Committee.
  2. It is the responsibility of our Welsh Language Co-ordinator to implement and monitor this Scheme. They will be responsible for monitoring our compliance with Welsh language legislation and delivering on our commitments in this Scheme.
  3. Responsibility for individual commitments, such as those within Customer Services or Human Resources, remain with their respective business areas.

Implementing the Scheme

  1. We will take a number of steps to ensure this Scheme is publicised and understood throughout the Agency.

We will:

a. Publish the Scheme on our intranet page and launch a dedicated guidance hub for the Welsh language;

b. Publish the Scheme on our gov.uk webpage in both English and Welsh and promote awareness of the scheme or individual commitments wherever appropriate to encourage take-up of Welsh medium services;

c. Produce a manager’s toolkit for translation services and guidance as to when a document should be translated;

d. Support our Welsh Language Co-ordinator in promoting the Scheme and our obligations under the Welsh Language Act 1993 across the Agency; and

e. Run staff workshops to give training and guidance on the new Welsh Language Scheme.

Monitoring the Scheme

  1. Our Welsh Language Co-Ordinator will be responsible for monitoring the Agency’s delivery against this Scheme. They will update the Agency’s Executive Committee at regular intervals, make recommendations for improvements, and lead on producing an annual monitoring report of our Welsh language services.
  2. We will consider any necessary amendments to improve our service for our Welsh speaking customers and in consultation with the Welsh Language Commissioner.
  3. We will report on our performance against the commitments in this Scheme to the Welsh Language Commissioner. This report will be produced annually and will be available to the public.

Contact us

Translations and Queries

  1. If there are documents on the VOA website that you require translation into Welsh, please contact us using voacymraeg@voa.gov.uk.

Questions and suggestions for improvement

  1. We welcome and encourage questions and feedback about this Scheme and our Welsh language services.
  2. To get in touch, please email us at voacymraeg@voa.gov.uk or write to us at:

Welsh Language Co-Ordinator
Cardiff Valuation Office,
Tŷ William Morgan,
6 Central Square,
Cardiff CF10 1ER
Complaints

  1. We have taken every step to ensure compliance with this Scheme and the fair and equal delivery of our services in Welsh. If we fall short of your expectations, please email us at complaintsinvestigation@voa.gov.uk or you can write to us at:

Complaints Investigation
Valuation Office Agency,
8th Floor, 10 South Colonnade,
Canary Wharf,
Greater London E14 4PU
Accessibility

  1. All material relating to this document can be provided in braille, large print or audio formats on request. To request accessible versions of this document, please email us at voacymraeg@voa.gov.uk or write to us at:

Welsh Language Co-Ordinator
Cardiff Valuation Office,
Tŷ William Morgan,
6 Central Square,
Cardiff CF10 1ER

Appendix A:

Document Control

Version

Date

Description

Editor

1.0

04/04/21

Publication of the Welsh Language Scheme.

M. Williams