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Ofcom proposes to approve first improved ‘text relay’ service

Ofcom yesterday took a significant step towards improving telephone calls for disabled consumers by proposing to approve BT’s enhanced text relay service.

Text relay is a vital service as it enables people with hearing and/or speech impairments to communicate with others via the telephone. A relay assistant acts as an intermediary to convert speech to text and vice versa for the two people in conversation.

Ofcom last year said that a ‘next generation’ text relay service must be made available to all landline and mobile customers by 18 April 2014.

Ofcom mandated a series of improvements that providers must deliver by this date. The improvements will enable users to have faster, more fluent conversations as they can interject; and use a variety of devices to access the service – including easier use of text relay on the move via smartphones and tablets.

BT is the first provider to develop and seek approval for its next generation text relay service. Having assessed BT’s planned service against a series of performance criteria, Ofcom proposes to give its approval, subject to today’s consultation.

If, following consultation, approval is granted, Ofcom understands that BT intends to provide wholesale access to its next generation text relay service for other communication providers.

BT’s service would be subject to ongoing monitoring to ensure it continued to comply with Ofcom standards.

Approval criteria for next generation text relay

Ofcom requires that all next generation text relay services must go through a rigorous approval process.

Ofcom has set out detailed criteria and performance targets that all text relay services must meet, and maintain, in order to gain approval.

These include minimum requirements to:

  • ensure staff are appropriately and adequately trained in the communications needs of deaf, hearing impaired, speech impaired and deafblind textphone users;
  • ensure that the systems have sufficient technical resilience to provide an uninterrupted service;
  • ensure complaints are handled in a fair and timely manner and do not exceed one per 1,000 calls;
  • ensure that 90% of standard text relay calls, on average, are answered within 15 seconds and 95% of emergency calls are answered within five seconds; and
  • publish and make available to Ofcom a detailed quarterly report on the operation and performance of the text relay service.

Next steps

Ofcom is inviting comments on its proposal to approve BT’s application by 10 January 2014. A decision will be published ahead of the 18 April 2014 deadline when next generation text relay services must be made available to consumers.

Ofcom has commissioned benchmarking research to compare the current and new relay services and will continue to monitor the development of speech recognition technology.

Ofcom is also helping disability groups (led by the Deaf Access to Communications campaign, which is part of the UK Council on Deafness) that are working to encourage the provision of video relay services by communications providers, businesses and other organisations on a voluntary basis.

Claudio Pollack, Ofcom Consumer Group Director, said: “Today’s announcement represents another key milestone in our work to deliver an improved telephone experience for hearing and speech impaired consumers.

“As technology moves on, Ofcom is committed to ensuring disabled users can access reliable, up-to-date text relay services which help them communicate more easily.”


  1. Under section 3(4) of the Communications Act 2003, Ofcom has a duty to have regard to the needs of disabled and elderly people when carrying out its functions.
  2. General Condition 15 requires landline and mobile telephone providers to provide access for their customers to an approved text relay service.

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