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HMRC internal manual

Debt Management and Banking Manual

Customer contact and data security: telephone contact: sensitive call handling: profoundly deaf, hard of hearing or have a speech impairment

Text Relay, formerly known as Typetalk is a service provided by BT. It brings the benefits of the telephone network to deaf, hard of hearing and speech impaired people by relaying a conversation between people who use textphones and people who use voice phones.

Inbound calls

When customers use this service they will call us by textphone, using the BT TextDirect prefix 18001 followed by the full telephone number. A Text Relay operator joins the line to relay the conversation the customer types their part of the conversation. The Text Relay operator reads out exactly what’s typed to the hearing person. The hearing person replies saying ‘go ahead’ after speaking (this tells the operator they’ve finished speaking and the Text Relay operator types exactly what’s said). The customer can then read the response on their textphone display panel.

If you receive a call made via the Text Relay service you should deal with it in the usual way. The fact that the Text Relay operator is speaking on behalf of the caller does not affect any verification procedures that are in place in your business stream.

Deaf, hard of hearing and speech impaired customers don’t need to contact us via the Text Relay Service if there is no authorised third party. They may do so through a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter. BSL is the recognised language of the deaf community in the UK and is recognised as a language in UK law.

If you receive a call from someone acting as a BSL interpreter for a customer who uses BSL (for example, a family member or a friend), you should deal with it in the usual way. Again, the fact that the BSL interpreter is speaking on behalf of the caller does not affect any verification procedures that are in place in your business stream. You should ask the interpreter to ‘vocalise’ both sides of the conversation. That means asking them to say what they are signing to the customer and then repeating what the customer signs back to them. This is so we have a verbal record of our conversation with the customer. You should also ask the interpreter’s name, address, relationship to the customer and membership of any professional body and note this on our records.

We need to adopt the correct approach using our PDRS training and treat every customer with empathy and tact.

Outgoing calls

To make an outgoing call, you need to dial:

  • 9 for the outside line
  • 18002 - the National BT link number
  • the customer’s full telephone number.

When you talk, the Text Relay operator will relay your words to the caller and relay the caller’s words to you. However, the caller may hear what you say, then reply via the operator.

Text Relay is extremely easy to use but there are some simple things to remember when you use the service (either to make or receive calls).

  • The operator types everything you say.
  • Speak carefully and clearly, not quickly.
  • You may be asked to spell out certain words.
  • Allow a little more time for the call.
  • Address the text user directly - say ‘you’ rather than ‘he’ or ‘she’.
  • Say ‘go ahead’ or ‘over to you’ each time you finish speaking.
  • The text user will either speak with you directly or type in their reply, which is read out to you by the operator.
  • Remember not to interrupt - the text user may not be able to hear you.
  • Wait for the operator to tell you it’s your turn again.

The BT operators are bound by the Official Secrets Act and Telecommunications Acts and will never divulge any conversation. They don’t keep records of the calls and the customer can ask for a male or female operator to handle your call.

Additional Services are also available which enables people who are hard of hearing or who are speech impaired to communicate with the department by sending and receiving messages.

Note: After receiving a request for or making a Text Relay (Typetalk) phone call, you must include within your note “Customer’s preferred method of communication is by ‘Text Relay / Typetalk’.”

Where possible staff should check the notes before making an outbound call and use this facility to contact the customer.

If we contact a customer and they advise they informed us before about this preferred method of communication, or you then notice this noted on record, you should apologise and telephone them back using this facility.

Where the customer does not have this facility you should agree that communication can be done in writing or via a 3rd party as appropriate, and depending on the case, set / take the next action as applicable for that individual case.


Some customers may prefer to handle their dealings in these circumstances with the department through an agent, representative or third party (including a voluntary organisation), and our normal guidance regarding authority and security should still be followed - see DMBM511600 about contact with third parties.

Where a customer is unable to directly deal with their own affairs they may decide to provide a third party with authority to act on their behalf. A power of attorney is a legal document whereby a person (the ‘donor’) gives another person (the ‘attorney’ or ‘donee’) this authority - see IDG30430 Disclosure when there is power of attorney.