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Oftel's draft Equality Scheme submission to the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland

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May 2001


Oftel's draft Equality Scheme: Statement by the Director General of Telecommunications

Chapter 1        Introduction

Chapter 2        Arrangements for assessing compliance with section 75 duties

Chapter 3        Equality impact assessments

Chapter 4        Timetable

Chapter 5        Monitoring

Chapter 6        Publication of equality impact assessments and monitoring

Chapter 7        Consultation

Chapter 8        Public access to information and services

Chapter 9        Training and awareness raising

Chapter 10        Complaints

Chapter 11        Publication of the scheme
Chapter 12        Review of the scheme

Annex A Main groups identified by Oftel as relevant to the section 75 categories listed in the Northern Ireland Act 1998

Annex B        List of those to be consulted

Annex C        Timetable for reviews and other associated activity

Oftel's draft Equality Scheme

Statement by the Director General of Telecommunications

My goal is to secure the best deal for all telecoms consumers wherever they may be in the United Kingdom.

I am committed to ensuring that Oftel's work is carried out in conformity with the requirements set out in section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 which relate to the promotion of equality of opportunity and good relations between persons of differing religious groups, political opinions and racial groups.

This draft Equality Statement sets out how I believe Oftel satisfies the requirements of section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and how it will continue to do so in future.

David Edmonds
Director General of Telecommunications


Chapter 1


1.1 The Director General of Telecommunications (the Director) was appointed under the Telecommunications Act 1984. Oftel is the office of the Director. Oftel is a non-ministerial Government Department, which is responsible for the regulation of the UK telecommunications sector.

1.2 Oftel is a designated public authority under the Northern Ireland Act 1998 ('the Act'). The effect of this designation is to require Oftel, pursuant to section 75 of that Act, to carry out its functions relating to Northern Ireland with due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity –
  • between persons of different religious belief, political opinion, racial group, age, marital status or sexual orientation;
  • between men and women generally;
  • between persons with a disability and persons without; and
  • between persons with dependants and persons without.
In addition to the above obligations, Oftel must also have regard to the desirability of promoting good relations between persons of different religious belief, political opinion or racial group when carrying out its functions relating to Northern Ireland.

1.3 The statutory functions and duties of the Director General of Telecommunications are set out in the Telecommunications Act 1984. Oftel has only limited involvement in social policy issues which are generally the preserve of other Government Departments. There are however, important exceptions such as Universal Service for which Oftel is responsible and which has a substantial social policy element. These services, rather than Oftel's more general and economic functions are the focus of this draft Equality Scheme. This scheme is required to conform to any guidelines issued by the Equality Commission. Oftel believes that it is compliant with guidelines issued by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland.

1.4 The telecommunications sector has changed significantly since 1984 and the way in which Oftel operates and is structured has changed to reflect this. Oftel's strategy Statement issued in January 2000 details how Oftel intends to deliver its goal of achieving the best deal for consumers. Oftel also publishes annually its Management Plan which details specific areas of work which will be the focus for work over the forthcoming year.

1.5 Further changes are planned for the way in which the communications sector is regulated. These proposed changes are set out in the Government's White Paper of December 2000 entitled A New Future for Communications.

The structure of Oftel:

1.6 Oftel currently employs some 220 staff in its three directorates: Regulatory Policy Directorate; Compliance Directorate and Business Support Directorate. The work of these directorates can be summarised as follows:

  • Regulatory Policy Directorate is responsible for the development and review of telecommunications regulation in the UK. It works closely with the European Commission, the DTI, other utility and communications regulators in the UK and abroad, consumer bodies and the telecoms industry;
  • Compliance Directorate is responsible for ensuring that individuals and organisations, which operate under a Telecommunications Act licence, comply with their obligations. Oftel also has concurrent powers with the Office of Fair Trading under the Competition Act 1998 to ensure that companies do not engage in anti-competitive activity; and
  • Business Support Directorate manages the personnel, finance, accommodation and IT functions within Oftel.


Chapter 2

Arrangements for assessing compliance with the Section 75 duties

2.1 Section 75 of the Act provides that Schedule 9 of that Act shall apply to Oftel, as a public authority. Schedule 9 requires a public authority to have a scheme which, inter alia, shows how it proposes to fulfil its duties under the Act and its arrangements for assessing its compliance with those duties.

2.2 As explained in the introduction, Oftel believes that its duties under section 75 will be most relevant to its regulatory functions which have a social policy dimension rather than its direct work as a competition regulator. While required by section 75 to have regard to the promotion of equality of opportunity and the desirability of promoting good relations when carrying out its functions, it is Oftel's view that such consideration in relation to the purely economic regulatory elements of Oftel's functions is unlikely to advance those aims in any meaningful way.

2.3 There are however important areas of Oftel's work which Oftel has identified to which the promotion of equality duties in section 75 may be relevant. References to these areas of work can be found in Oftel's Management Plan as follows:

  • Determination of the level of the Universal Service Obligation that applies to BT including ensuring that all reasonable demands for voice telephony services are met throughout the UK at an affordable price to ensure the fullest social and economic inclusion. Oftel will be issuing a Statement in Spring 2001 setting out the level of Universal service from 2001 following Oftel's consultation of September 2000. Oftel will be reviewing the effectiveness of BT's pre-pay schemes for low users in 2003, including the newly launched 'In Contact Plus'. Oftel will also be considering the need for further action in relation to disconnections in 2003 in the light of experience of the requirements to be set out in the forthcoming statement.
  • The provision of public payphones throughout the UK. A review of public payphones is scheduled for 2001.
  • The provision of a scheme for the resolution of disputes between consumers and telecom operators. Oftel is at present consulting on the establishment of a Telecoms Ombudsman scheme. The Government has indicated its support for this model of dispute resolution in the communications industries more widely in the White Paper, A new Future for Communications.
  • The maintenance of an obligation on BT which requires it to provide geographically averaged retail tariffs throughout the UK. This ensures that subscribers pay the same for a given service regardless of where they live within the UK.
  • The imposition of the retail price control, which applies to BT, and which protects consumers where competition is not yet effective. The control, which was recently extended beyond its March 2001 expiry date, places a ceiling or cap on the amount by which BT may increase prices for a group of services including local, national and international calls and line rental. Oftel will be issuing an initial consultation document in May 2001 as part of the review of retail price controls which is due to be completed by July 2002
  • The provision of special tariffs for internet access for schools and defined public institutions (libraries, Citizen's Advice Bureaux, Colleges of Further Education and learndirect Learning Centres).
  • The work of the Northern Ireland Advisory Committee (NIACT), the Advisory Committee on telecommunications for the Disabled and Elderly (DIEL) and Communications for Business (CfB). These committees and similar bodies in the other home countries represent the interests of their constituents to the Director.
  • The work of Oftel's Consumer Representation Section (CRS) in handling complaints and enquiries. In Northern Ireland, this work is currently undertaken on behalf of Oftel by the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce pursuant to contract. CRS receives in excess of 100,000 complaints and enquiries each year.
  • The work of Oftel's Customer and Market's Unit in undertaking and publishing consumer research. This research is conducted in response to requests generated through Oftel's work on policy development and implementation. Where appropriate, the results are presented separately for different parts of the UK. It is intended that this practice will be extended.
  • Oftel requires Comparable Performance Indicators (CPIs) to be produced. CPIs are telecoms companies audited quality of service statistics, which are produced for the benefit of consumers. CPIs for the fixed telecoms companies are representative of the whole of the UK. For the mobile telecoms companies, CPIs are published on a UK wide basis and also on a regional basis which reflects the fact that quality of service can differ more for mobile companies when looked at region by region. For the purposes of the comparisons, Northern Ireland is one region. The other regions are: Scotland, Wales, London; the South East of England; the South West of England; the Midlands; East Anglia and the North of England.

2.4 Oftel is located in London. Oftel currently has no office in Northern Ireland and there is no prospect of this changing before the establishment of the Office of Communications, proposed in the White Paper referred to above. It therefore considers that, currently, the only local operational policies that might have an impact on equality of opportunity in Northern Ireland are those relating to:

  • the procurement of goods and services in Northern Ireland;
  • consumer representation and how Oftel deals with consumer complaints relating to Northern Ireland; and
  • licence compliance and how Oftel enforces licence compliance against licensees in relation to services provided in Northern Ireland.
2.5 In order to assess its ongoing compliance with the section 75 duties, Oftel proposes that, over an initial three year period, it will evaluate how each of the major policy areas identified conforms to the requirements of the Act. This evaluation will be achieved by means of screening and equality impact assessments which will be incorporated into the relevant work area or project reviews. The process of conducting equality impact assessments will be incorporated into Oftel's Management Plan. If it appears, as a result of the consultation on this draft Equality Scheme, that other policy areas should also be covered then Oftel will also conduct equality impact assessments for those policy areas.

2.6 A review of the scheme's operation will be undertaken in compliance with the requirements of the Act.

2.7 As Oftel does not have any employees in Northern Ireland, this route to the promotion of good relations is not available. With regard to the development of its own social policies, Oftel will be reliant on the input of organisations based in Northern Ireland.

8 In general, Oftel has had some difficulties in identifying how its work can, in any meaningful sense, contribute to the promotion of good community relations anticipated in the Act. Oftel would welcome the views of consultees on this subject.

2.9 Responsibility within Oftel for taking forward Oftel's implementation of the section 75 duties will rest with Oftel's Regulatory Policy Directorate, within which a Northern Ireland Equality team will be established. This Equality Team will be a first point of contact for those making enquiries in relation to Oftel's Equality Scheme and its equality impact assessments.

2.10 Oftel is committed to ensuring that the appropriate resources (in terms of staff, time and finance) are in place to ensure that its statutory duties under the Act are complied with, and that all staff, including those not directly involved with implementation of the Scheme, are aware of the requirements of the Act.

2.11 All actions proposed as a result of Oftel's Equality Scheme will appear in Oftel's Management Plan, which is produced annually.

2.12 Oftel will submit a report each year to the Northern Ireland Equality Commission relating to its implementation of the section 75 duties.


Chapter 3

Equality impact assessments

3.1 Oftel has assessed its existing policies in light of section 75 of the Act. Having done so, Oftel currently considers that there is no likely impact on the promotion of equality of opportunity for those existing policies, with the exception of those matters identified at paragraphs 2.3 and 2.4 above. In relation to those identified matters, Oftel will ensure, where appropriate and practicable, that these areas are subjected to a further formal screening process which will assess the impact of these policy areas against the categories of person set out in section 75 of the Act. These procedures will be kept under review.

3.2 Oftel considers that the rest of its policy and compliance work does not need to be the subject of equality impact assessments as Oftel considers at this stage that these areas do not raise equality of opportunity issues. As required by the Act, Oftel will make an assessment in relation to proposed and future policies as to whether there is a likely impact on the promotion of equality.

3.3 As indicated above, Oftel considers that by reason of the nature of its functions as a telecommunications regulator, the main assessments that it will be making will be in respect of equality of opportunity rather than in the promotion of good relations. That said, where assessments in respect of the promotion of good relations are required they will be made.

3.4 In conducting its equality impact assessments, Oftel will consider the following:

  • Whether there is any evidence of higher or lower participation or uptake by different groups;
  • Whether there is any evidence that different groups have different and addressable needs, experiences, issues and priorities in relation to the particular policy;
  • Whether there is any possibility of promoting increased equality of opportunity or better community relations by altering the policy in relation to Northern Ireland or working with others in government or in the larger community; and
  • Whether consultation with relevant groups, organisations or individuals has indicated that particular policies create particular problems which are specific to them and which may need to be addressed separately.

3.5 Oftel currently consults on new policy proposals at an early stage. In future, an initial equality impact assessment will also be undertaken at this time and will be incorporated into the consultation process with a view to assessing on a case by case basis whether any particular equality issues are raised. This assessment will involve drawing upon both quantitative and qualitative data from affected stakeholders.


Chapter 4


4.1 Oftel will follow the timetable set out in Annex C. The methodology to be adopted will be that set out in the Equality Commission's Guide to Statutory Duties: A Guide to the implementation of the statutory duties on public authorities arising from Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 at pages 41- 46.


Chapter 5


5.1 Oftel currently assesses the impact of its policies by means of periodic reviews and consultations. These reviews are considered essential to informed policy making. These reviews, insofar as they relate to equality issues, will however be subject to a more formal structure under the proposals for monitoring which are set out below.

5.2 Oftel will, over a period of three years, undertake formal equality impact assessments in respect of all the areas identified in paragraph 2.3 and 2.4 above. As each equality impact assessment is undertaken, Oftel will also evaluate its monitoring of these policies and assess the accessibility of information already published. Oftel appreciates that for its consultative documents to be an effective means of addressing issues of exclusion, the format of its documents must be flexible. It is therefore proposed that Oftel will keep under review its arrangements for providing information in alternative formats (for example, language, font size, Braille, etc) to ensure that information in those formats is available in a timely fashion to those who require it. Oftel's publications are already available in a variety of media.


Chapter 6

Publication of equality impact assessments and monitoring

6.1 Oftel will consult on the outcome of any equality impact assessment and of any monitoring undertaken in relation to paragraphs 5.2 above. The conclusions will be published in printed form and in alternative formats following a request in writing. A version will also be placed on Oftel's website:


Chapter 7


7.1 The purpose of the consultation process will be to ensure that the views of those likely to be affected are fed into Oftel's policy development process. The consultations envisaged by this document will formally commence once this scheme has been approved by the Northern Ireland Equality Commission.

7.2 Where appropriate, Oftel will consult with the Northern Ireland Equality Commission and the Community Relations Council on issues relevant to the fulfilment of its section 75 obligations in relation to the areas of Oftel's work which are identified as being relevant to the section 75 obligations.

7.3 Oftel proposes to consult with all relevant public sector and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) on any equality impact assessments that it carries out in relation to the areas of work identified as being subject to the section 75 duties. Where an equality impact assessment on new activities relates to a specific geographic area within Northern Ireland, Oftel will consult the relevant District Council(s).

7.4 Oftel routinely consults on all of its major policy and compliance decisions. This means that representations can still be made to Oftel even where Oftel has decided that there does not need to be an equality impact assessment. To assist Oftel in identifying potential equality issues, those to be consulted (set out in Annex B) might find it useful to subscribe to Oftel's mailing list which will automatically notify them by e mail of all new Oftel publications.

7.5 The list of those to be consulted will be updated when Oftel is made aware of any new bodies that should be on the list. Oftel welcomes the input of stakeholders in ensuring that its contact lists are both up to date and accurate.

7.6 Oftel's current guidelines generally allow a period of three months for responses to its consultation documents on broad matters of regulatory policy . In order to ensure that the processes set out in this consultation are put in place as swiftly as possible, Oftel considers that it is appropriate to depart from a period of three months in this case and proposes consulting for a period of two months on this draft scheme which is in accordance with the statutory requirement of the Act.

7.7 As part of its consultation process on new areas of policy, Oftel sometimes uses public meetings, focus groups, attitude surveys and market research. Interested parties can, if appropriate, meet with the relevant officials to make oral representations to Oftel. Where public meetings are convened, they will be at locations and times considered to be the most convenient for those who are to be consulted in order to encourage the fullest participation.

7.8 Oftel has recently issued a consultation document, which aims to assess and update the way in which Oftel consults with stakeholders. The consultation document of February 2001 entitled Oftel's use of public consultation is available on Oftel's website.

7.9 The consultation will run until 6 July 2001. A further 2 weeks will be allowed to submit comments on comments.

7.10 Any comments should be made in writing and sent to:

David Parsons
Regulatory Policy Directorate
50 Ludgate Hill
London EC4M 7JJ

7.11 Written comments will be made publicly available in Oftel's Research and Intelligence Unit except where respondents indicate that their response, or parts of it, are confidential.

7.12 Respondents are asked to separate out any confidential material into a confidential annex which is clearly identified as containing confidential material. In the interests of transparency, respondents are requested to avoid confidentiality markings wherever possible.

7.13 Oftel has a free e-mail based mailing list to help people stay informed about the work that Oftel is doing. Each time an Oftel document is published and placed on Oftel's website subscribers to the list receive an e-mail informing them about the document. If you would like to join please use the electronic form on the website to add yourself to the list. There is a link to the form from the What's new section of the site.

The consultation criteria

Oftel considers that this document meets the Cabinet Office code of practice on written consultation documents. The code is reproduced below for convenience. If you have any comments or complaints about this consultation process please contact:

Oftel Co-ordinator for the code of practice:
Robert Jex,
50 Ludgate Hill,
London EC4M 7JJ,


tel: 020 7634 5340
fax: 020 7634 8943

1) Timing of consultation should be built into the planning process for a policy (including legislation) or service from the start, so that it has the best prospect of improving the proposals concerned, and so that sufficient time is left for it at each stage.

2) It should be clear who is being consulted, about what questions, in what timescale and for what purpose.

3) A consultation document should be as simple and concise as possible. It should include a summary, in two main pages at most, of the main questions it seeks views on. It should make it as easy as possible for readers to respond, make contact or complain.

4) Documents should be made widely available, with the fullest use of electronic means (though not to the exclusion of others), and effectively drawn to the attention of all interested groups and individuals.

5) Sufficient time should be allowed for considered responses from all groups with an interest. Twelve weeks should be the standard minimum period for consultation.

6) Responses should be carefully and open-mindedly analysed, and the results made widely available, with an account of the views expressed, and reasons for decisions finally taken.

7) Departments should monitor and evaluate consultations, designating a consultation co-ordinator who will ensure that all the lessons are disseminated.


Chapter 8

Public access to information and services

8.1 Oftel is determined to build upon what it has already achieved in communicating its policies to the public. For example, last year Oftel's website received more than half a million visits. The consultation document referred to in paragraph 7.8 is another example of how Oftel periodically re-examines the way in which it communicates with its stakeholders. To assist this process, further periodic reviews will be undertaken on the way in which Oftel communicates its policies (including those that are the subject of the section 75 duties). In such reviews, Oftel will consider:

  • the adequacy of existing provision of information in accessible formats, for example, Braille, large font, audio and minority ethnic languages together with how they may be improved;
  • the likely demand for information in alternative formats in relation to Oftel's activities which are subject to the section 75 duties;
  • what information on Oftel's functions and services needs to be communicated to all groups or only some groups and how best this targeting can be achieved;
  • the requirements of the Data Protection Act 1998, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and any other relevant statutes;
  • resource implications in carrying out the section 75 duties;
  • the recommendations of the cross departmental Promoting Social Inclusion (PSI) working group on minority ethnic groups and their access to information.

8.2 Oftel's consultation documents are all published on Oftel's website. A press notice also accompanies many publications. In future, Oftel proposes that it will ensure that its press notices, insofar as they relate to its section 75 duties, will be sent to all three Belfast daily newspapers, including the North West version of the Belfast Telegraph. Where press notices are aimed at a particular geographical area within Northern Ireland, Oftel will ensure that the press notice is available to local newspapers circulating in that area. Where specialist press exist, Oftel will endeavour to ensure that copies of the press notice are distributed to those specialist publications.

8.3 Oftel's commitments, set out in this scheme, to ensuring equality of opportunity in relation to access to information are not limited to any rights to information set out in the current Code of Practice on Open Government or the Freedom of Information Act 2000.


Chapter 9

Training and awareness raising

9.1 Oftel will seek to ensure that its staff (at all levels of responsibility) receive appropriate awareness raising training on the section 75 duties. For new staff it is proposed that this will be incorporated into Oftel's general induction programme on equal opportunities. Each member of staff will receive a copy of Oftel's Equality Scheme. Oftel will report annually on its training programme (insofar as it relates to equality issues and the section 75 duties) to the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland.


Chapter 10

Complaint handling

10.1 Where a person or persons believe that they have been affected by a failure of Oftel to comply with its section 75 duties, then they should in the first instance direct their complaint to Oftel's Regulatory Policy Directorate, Northern Ireland Equality Team. Following receipt of the complaint, the Equality Team will initiate an investigation of the complaint and will respond to the complainant(s) within one month of receipt of the complaint. In response to the complaint, Oftel will inform the complainant(s) of the procedure for pursuing the complaint with the Equality Commission as described in paragraph 10 of Schedule 9 of the Act. If the Equality Commission decides to investigate any complaint or any other matter falling within paragraph 11(1)(b) of Schedule 9 of the Act, Oftel will respond as appropriate to any such investigation or complaint.

10.2 Oftel recognises that some people find it difficult to make a written complaint. In view of this, complaints can be made by telephone (at local rate to Oftel's Consumer Representation service on 0845-714 5000), in person or via a group representative. Oftel's staff will be given the necessary training in order to handle such complaints.


Chapter 11

Publication of the scheme

11.1 Following this consultation, Oftel will submit its Equality Scheme (which will, as appropriate, reflect the comments received on the draft during the period of consultation) to the Commission. The scheme will be available in print form and alternative formats on request from: Oftel, 50 Ludgate Hill, London EC4M 7JJ (tel: 020-7634 8761). Copies will also be available from Oftel's website at: Oftel is required to consult on this scheme in accordance with any directions given by the Equality Commission. The Equality Commission has issued directions and this consultation is in accordance with them.

11.2 Once the Equality Commission has approved the scheme, a further version, revised as necessary, will be made available in the ways identified above.


Chapter 12

Review of the scheme

12.1 The scheme will be reviewed in accordance with the requirements of the Act. Oftel would anticipate that Ofcom, its successor body, would take account of Oftel's experiences in this regard.


Annex A

Main groups identified by Oftel for the purposes of discharing its section 75 duties

Religious belief Catholics; Protestants and people of other recognised religious beliefs
Political opinion Members or supporters of Nationalism generally; Members or supporters of Unionism generally; members or supporters of any other recognised political party
Racial group Afro-Carribean people; Black African people; Chinese people; Indian people; Pakistani people; Travelling people; White people; people of mixed race
Men and women generally Men and women
Marital status Married people; unmarried people; divorced or separated people; widowed people
Age People of school age; people of working age; people of retirement age
Persons with a disability Those persons (as identified in sections 1 and 2 of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995) with a learning, a physical or sensory disability
Sexual orientation Bi-sexuals, gays; lesbians; heterosexuals, trans-gendered people
People with or without dependants All people with or without dependants


Annex B

List of consultees

In addition to Oftel's list of industry and non-industry consultees Oftel proposes the following which is non-exhaustive.

Age Concern
Association of Chief Officers of Voluntary Organisations
Belfast Centre for the Unemployed
Blind Centre (NI)
NI Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders
Carers National Association Northern Ireland
Community Relations Council
Craigavon Standing Conference of Women's Organisations
Disability Action
East Belfast Community Development Agency
Enterprise, Trade and Investment Assembly Committee
Equality Commission for Northern Ireland
Federation of Small Businesses
Fermanagh Women's Network
Gingerbread Northern Ireland
Head of Department, Consumer Studies Department, UUJ
Health and Social Services Councils
Help the Aged
Housing Rights Service
Law Centre Northern Ireland
Multi-cultural resource Centre
Newry & Mourne Women
North West Community Network
North West forum of People with Disabilities
Northern Ireland Anti-Poverty Network
Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities
Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission
Northern Ireland Youth Forum
Northern Ireland Women's European Platform
Northern Ireland Political Parties
Omagh Women's Area Network
Putting Children First
Rural Community Network
Rural Development Council
West Belfast Economic Forum
Women's Forum
Women's Information Group
Women's Support Network
Youth Council for Northern Ireland


Annex C

Proposed timetable

The following summarises the actions which Oftel proposes taking over the three years following submission of this Scheme to the Equality Commission.

May -June 2001 Consult on draft equality scheme
July 2001 Submit scheme to Northern Ireland Equality Commission incorporating representations received during the consultation stage
Following Equality Commission's approval Implement the additional processes set out in the scheme to ensure compliance with section 75 duties.



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