Evaluation of Own Language Telephone Advice Services (OLTAS) (2011)

Own Language Telephone Advice (OLTA) is a pilot project being tested in Birmingham by the Refugee Council, with a view to rolling this scheme out nationally at a later stage. As a result of the pressures being placed on the services provided by the Refugee Council, the organisation has had to explore different methods and models for delivering services to maximise utilisation of resources and to ensure the high quality of services is maintained.

OLTA will implement a service delivery mechanism that is based on proper screening, assessment of clients' need, and provision of advice on the phone and offering appointments only when a face-to-face advice session is considered essential. All clients and referral agencies in the region will be required to contact the Refugee Council office via telephone from where its advisers will provide advice at the same time as maintaining the capacity to deal with emergency cases in order to minimise impact on clients.

Under the OLTA service, free phones - paid for by the Refugee Council - will be assigned to the 'top ten' refugee languages based on recent statistics and will be available to clients and referring agencies. The national language line will be utilised for ad-hoc requests for those languages outside the ten. Using Birmingham as a virtual call centre, alongside current staff - whose language skills currently cover most of the most common refugee languages - additional support will be drawn in from other Refugee Council offices or partner agencies where language gaps are identified. If successful, the project could result in a significant reduction in overhead costs as well as increase the competitiveness and effectiveness of the Refugee Council in providing an improved service to its clients. OLTA will supplement current face-to-face advice provision with the intention of replacing the need for clients to visit refugee Council offices entirely, should the pilot project be deemed a success.

The main objectives of the pilot are:

  • Test the effectiveness of the OLTA service
  • Eliminate current long queuing systems
  • Enhance the quality of advice provision in a structured and planned appointment model
  • Reduce the length of advice sessions through the improved utilisation of staff with relevant language skills
  • Replace the current and ineffective 'A&E' approach to service provision
  • Improve referral mechanisms and signposting systems
  • Establish better communication with clients to avoid repeat and unnecessary visits
  • Manage the expectations of clients and referral agencies more realistically
  • More effectively control budget cuts and the impact of these on overheads

The role of the Research Team will be to evaluate the programme. To do this, the research team will employ a variety of different methodological approaches with a particular focus on action-based methods, to measure and evaluate some of the indicative outcomes.


Dr Chris Allen