The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) fined Capita £46,139 for fatal flaws in its court interpreter service between May 2012 and November 2013.
A National Audit Office report published today reveals that the MoJ withheld the maximum amount of payments from Capita since it took over the estimated £90m contract in 2011. Individual judges also filed 11 wasted cost orders against Capita for a total of £7,299.
The government-commissioned report brings to light a catalogue of errors recorded by Capita since it took over the contract in 2011, which include registering a pet dog as a viable interpreter.
When the company took over the account it had 1,340 people registered to work but only 280 had passed a quality assessment and it only met 58 per cent of bookings against a 98 per cent target.
Chair of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chair Margaret Hodge slammed the performance as “total chaos”.
In 2012 she said: “Court officials have had to scramble to find qualified interpreters at short notice; there has been a sharp rise in delayed, postponed and abandoned trials; individuals have been kept on remand solely because no interpreter was available; and the quality of interpreters has at times been appalling.”
The NAO report says the company has since signed up a further 1,365 people but most have still not been assessed as the contract originally required.
It was also revealed to have been overstating customer cancellations and understating books unfulfilled by Capita by the same amount. Capita said it had corrected the problem by providing guidance to staff, though the report said this was only verbal.
Capita has made improvements however. The company has raised the number of appropriately qualified interpreters from 53 per cent to 96 per cent and has reduced unfulfilled appointments to 9 per cent.
The NAO report was commissioned by Hodge after reports of poor performance.
In a December report she said: “Interpretation services are vital for ensuring fair access to justice. Yet when the Ministry of Justice set out to establish a new centralised system for supplying interpreters to the justice system, almost everything that could go wrong did go wrong.
“This is an object-lesson in how not to contract out a public service.”
Despite the catastrophic performance in the first few months the MoJ only penalized the supplier what she referred to as a “risible” £2,200.
The report reveals that in the first three months of the contract being rolled out nationally the Ministry did not withhold payment from Capita for its poor performance even though it was entitled to.
But it adds: “The Ministry has claimed back its full entitlement of service credits during the course of the contract, with the exception of the first three months.”
A Capita spokesperson said: “After reviewing the overall service with the MoJ and improving the terms and conditions for interpreters in May we have seen a significant increase in fulfilment rates which are now tracking to the target level of service required.
“A continuous programme of improvements are being implemented as we work together with stakeholders and is showing a positive outcome in terms of quality and service levels. We expect future figures to demonstrate an improvement to fulfilment rates and a continued reduction in complaints as well as continually delivering significant savings to the MoJ.”