Published: 14:03, 21 January 2019
| Updated: 14:04, 21 January 2019
Interpreter costs “continue to be a major burden” on Kent County Council’s finances because of a shortage of translators living in the area, according to officers.
The authority is expecting to spend £1.5 million more than the funding provided by central government to support unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC) who have left the care system during 2018/19.
KCC received a total of £6.9 million from the Home Office and Department for Education to help more than 900 young people who have entered the country alone, but are expecting to face costs of £8.4 million.
A number of factors are being blamed for the shortfall including the government’s decision to extend support for all care leavers up to the age of 25, having previously been to 21.
Legal costs and the immigration application process are also factors.
But members of the council’s scrutiny committee have focused on interpreter fees, which are described as a “major burden” in meeting papers.
It reads: “This is particularly relevant for young people who arrive close to their 18th birthday but meet the eligibility criteria for care leaver services.
“They will have had little opportunityto learn English before they turn 18 and therefore their lack of a common communication channel is an increasing burden as more interpreters are required to meet out statutory duties.”
“I suspect if the translation costs were made known to the average resident of Kent, they might turn around and say I’m sure this could be done a lot cheaper..." - Cllr Rosalind Binks
Director for children’s integrated services Sarah Hammond explained there is a “great deal of legal responsibility” when translators are used, meaning cost-cutting measures are not possible.
She said: “It’s absolutely critical both for the young people and social workers that there is no window of doubt what the young person is saying. For that reason, we have to use trained and certified interpreters.
“The validity of the assessment work we do would fall away if we were not able to demonstrate we had the right quality and accreditation of a translation body – and that comes with significant costs.
“The reality is the majority of interpreters are coming from outside of the county, so we are incurring travel costs as well as their professional fees.”
Ms Hammond said the most common translation services required include Tigrinya, Persian, and Pashto – with a “small cohort” of former Kent-based UASCs now gaining the “right accreditation to become interpreters”.
Cllr Rosalind Binks (Con) has called for the county’s MPs to do more to challenge the government on the costs incurred by KCC.
She added: “I suspect if the translation costs were made known to the average resident of Kent, they might turn around and say I’m sure this could be done a lot cheaper.
“The council would rightly say that this is not necessarily possible in a way that could escape legal challenge.
"To me, this sounds very much something our MPs should be looking into rather seriously in Kent.”
More by this authorDean Kilpatrick, local democracy reporter