BT’s been fined £800,000 for failing to update its text relay service for disabled people

BT has just been fined £800,000 by communications regulator Ofcom for failing to provide an improved text relay service for disabled customers. Users who are deaf or hard of hearing or who have speech impairments are entitled to access equivalent phone services under disability discrimination regulations. Text relay can translate typing into speech via textphone or a relay assistant who’ll speak your words to the person you’re contacting, allowing anyone who has trouble speaking or hearing to make phone calls without asking for help.

Ofcom gave all mobile and landline phone providers 18 months to make text relay available by April 2014. However, it took BT an extra five months to comply. Because other providers done deals with BT to offer the service to their customers, this left a lot of people high and dry.

In September last year, BT finally launched Next Generation Text Service, which is accessible on PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones. They blamed the delay on sound quality problems with emergency calls – although being unable to make an emergency call in the first place might have been a bigger concern for customers who were affected by the wait.

Ofcom acknowledged that this issue didn’t crop up until late in the development process, and that BT had made a significant investment in improving the service, but emphasised the importance of disabled customers having access to phone services. Ofcom’s Consumer and Content Group Director Claudio Pollack said, ‘The size of the penalty imposed on BT reflects the importance of providing an improved text relay service to its customers with hearing and speech impairments.’

If you think you or someone you know might benefit from new and improved text relay services, Ofcom has a guide to using them.

Diane Shipley