British Telecom was fined £800,000 by communications watchdog Ofcom for failing to provide an improved text-to-voice relay service between April and September last year.

In October 2012, Ofcom advised all UK landline and mobile phone providers to launch their service by the deadline of 18 April 2014.

The service, to be accessible via desktop computer, tablet or smartphone, would allow a user to type what they wanted to say and have it spoken in a phone conversation by a call centre operator – enabling easy and fluent conversations to take place.

But BT failed to finish its “Next Generation Text Service” on time and did not have it running until 24 September, claiming that there were issues with the sound quality of emergency calls.

Ofcom however pointed out that it had had 18 months notice of the need to develop the system.

Claudio Pollack, Ofcom’s consumer and content group director, said: “The size of the penalty imposed on BT reflects the importance of providing an improved textrelay service to its customers with hearing and speech impairments.

“However, BT has invested significantly in launching the new text relay service, which allows users to have conversations more easily and fluently and on new devices. We welcome the fact the service is now operating successfully.”

BDA’s Director of Community Development and Operations, Damian Barry said: “The BDA welcomes the developments in improving access and inclusion for all Deaf BSL users in telecommunications. It also hopes that this decision will act as an incentive to speed up further development work in giving Deaf users equal access to services.

“Given that the £800,00 penalty will now be passed on to HM Treasury, we call on the Minister to reinvest those funds in undertaking an urgent review of language and communication support for deaf and hard of hearing people. This will enable an identification of the gaps, shortages and areas for improvement and investment in the future.”