Free Interpreting Service

The Free Interpreting Service aims to provide equitable access to key services, that are not government funded, for Australian citizens and permanent residents with limited or no English language proficiency.
The Free Interpreting Service is delivered by TIS National, on behalf of the Department of Social Services.
Using the Free Interpreting Service is easy and convenient. It is quick and simple for service providers to register and they can be connected to a phone interpreter within a few minutes.

Why use interpreters

Australia has a rich cultural diversity. The 2016 census revealed that Australians were born in almost 200 different countries and speak more than 300 languages. Not all Australian citizens and permanent residents are proficient in English.Photo of a mother hugging her young son.

The Free Interpreting Services helps eligible groups to communicate with clients who have limited or no English language proficiency. Using credentialed interpreters can facilitate better access to essential services for these clients and is particularly important for conversations in technical, legal or health contexts.
TIS National interpreters are bound by a professional code of ethics, which requires them to:

  • interpret information accurately and honestly
  • maintain confidentiality
  • be impartial and objective
  • act in a professional manner at all times.

TIS National’s policy is to use the highest credentialed interpreter available. Requests for specific interpreters are not encouraged for this reason.

Eligible groups

The following groups can access the Free Interpreting Service:

Services available

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Eligible groups can use the Free Interpreting Service to access interpreting services delivered by TIS National, including:

  • immediate phone interpreting
  • pre-booked phone interpreting
  • pre-booked onsite interpreting (not available to pharmacies or real estate agents)

Immediate phone interpreting is most useful for unplanned interactions. It provides:

  • access to over 3000 interpreters in over 165 different languages
  • interpreting services 24 hours a day 7 days a week
  • connection to an interpreter within a few minutes of calling.

Pre-booked phone interpreting is useful for planned interactions, or if you know you need to request a less common language.

When phone interpreting is not suitable, TIS National can arrange an interpreter to arrive onsite for a face-to-face appointment. This may be important when you have a group of people needing the same language interpreter, when you are discussing complex ideas, or when you anticipate that the appointment will go for an extended period of time. Onsite interpreter bookings must be for a minimum of 90 minutes.

Apply for a client code

To apply for a client code, eligible groups can complete the online client registration form on the TIS National website, or allow a few extra minutes the first time they use the service.

Eligible groups can also register by contacting TIS National on 1300 575 847 or at tis.lpl@homeaffairs.gov.au.

How to access the Free Interpreting Service

  1. Call TIS National on 131 450
  2. Provide the operator with the language of the interpreter that you need
  3. Provide your client code and the name of the organisation/practitioner/parliamentarian
  4. Request an interpreter of a particular gender, if required (subject to availability)

For more information

Download

Download the Free Interpreting Service - General Information Sheet.

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Medical Practitioners

Medical practitioners can access the Free Interpreting Service to provide Medicare rebateable services to anyone with a Medicare card.

Medical practitioners use credentialed interpreters to communicate complex or technical information to patients with limited or no English proficiency. This can help to ensure accuracy of communication, reduce confusion, save time, and protect practitioners from professional risk. It is particularly important when:

  • seeking informed consent
  • in a crisis
  • dealing with complexity
  • assessing patient competence.

Eligibility

Under the Free Interpreting Service, medical practitioners are defined as general practitioners and approved medical specialists.

Medical practitioners are eligible to access the Free Interpreting Service when delivering services that are:

  • Medicare rebateable
  • delivered in private practice
  • provided to anyone with a Medicare card.

Nursing and practice support staff who are working with a medical practitioner registered with TIS National can also access the service using the same client code.

The Free Interpreting Service can be used for delivering health services, including but not limited to: 

  • arranging appointment times
  • undertaking health consultations
  • developing health plans
  • providing medical test results.

The Free Interpreting Service cannot be used for:

  • allied health services
  • patients who do not hold a Medicare card
  • state funded public health services, such as service provided in hospitals.

Doctors Priority Line

The Doctors Priority Line provides priority access to TIS National, for people working in private medical practices. For more information on the Doctors Priority Line contact TIS National on 1300 575 847.

Download

Download the Free Interpreting Service - Medial Practitioners information sheet.

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Pharmacies

Pharmacies can access the Free Interpreting Service to dispense Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) medications to anyone with a Medicare card.

Pharmacies dispense medications that can be dangerous if taken incorrectly and information about medications can be complex. It is essential that people can communicate effectively with staff in pharmacies about the medications they are taking, how to take them correctly and any risks or side effects that may be associated.

Pharmacies use credentialed interpreters to communicate with people who may have limited or no English proficiency.  Using interpreters can also protect pharmacists from professional risk.

Eligibility

Pharmacies are eligible to access the Free Interpreting Service if:

  • they are dispensing PBS medication
  • the client is entitled to Medicare.

Download

Download the Free interpreting Service - Pharmacies information sheet.

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Non-government organisations

Non-government organisations can access the Free Interpreting Service to provide approved casework and emergency services, where the organisation does not receive substantial government funding to provide these services.

Non-government organisations provide a range of casework and emergency services and can use credentialed interpreters to communicate with people who have limited or no English language proficiency. This is particularly important when communicating complex or technical information and can help to establish a relationship and communicate effectively with these clients.

Eligibility

Non-government organisations are eligible to access the Free Interpreting Service if they are:

  • an incorporated, not for profit, non-government and community based organisation
  • delivering services to Australian citizens or permanent residents
  • providing approved casework or emergency services
  • not receiving substantial government funding for the delivery of the service (organisations delivering government funded services should discuss access to interpreters with their government funding body).

The Free Interpreting Service can be used by non-government organisations to provide approved casework or emergency services that are essential to economic or social participation (provided they are not listed as an ineligible activity, as per the below). This includes services that manage issues arising from health conditions, housing, employment, personal or family safety, and financial crisis.

Eligible services may include but are not limited to:

  • information, referral, support and advice for people with:
    • chronic disease
    • acute health conditions
    • a disability
  • services that facilitate community engagement, including:
    • referral services to third party agencies (such as those providing services for; health, housing, legal, employment, or education services)
    • mentoring programs
    • respite care
  • crisis intervention services, including for:

    • domestic violence
    • homlessness
    • unemployment
    • severe financial difficulties
    • legal matters

The Free Interpreting Service cannot be used by non-government organisations for:

  • government funded services
  • clinical medical services (see 'medical practitioners category')
  • allied health services
  • recreational activities or programs
  • political and media advocacy or lobbying
  • vocational training
  • immigration advice
  • child care services.

Services that are substantially government funded

Organisations that are providing approved casework or emergency services that are substantially government funded (including state, territory or commonwealth funding) are not eligible to access the Free Interpreting Service to deliver these funded services. In these instances, DSS recommends that the organisation discuss access to interpreters with the relevant government funding body.

Terms and Conditions

Terms and conditions apply to non-government organisations using the Free Interpreting Service.

Download

Download the Free Interpreting Service - Non-Government Organisation information sheet.

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Real estate agencies

Real estate agencies can access the Free Interpreting Service to discuss any private residential property matter with their clients.

Real estate agents are obliged to make sure that clients properly understand details of transactions, particularly when entering into legally binding agreements, such as tenancies and sales contracts, or when explaining tenancy obligations.

Real estate agents can use credentialed interpreters to communicate technical or complex information and to establish a relationship with clients who have limited or no English language proficiency.

Eligibility

Real estate agencies are eligible to access the Free Interpreting Service if they:

  • hold a real estate agency licence
  • provide private residential property services (rental or sales), and
  • provide services to clients that are primarily Australian citizens or permanent residents.

Any property manager, office support staff, or real estate agent can use the Free Interpreting Service to access phone interpreting services delivered by TIS National.

The Free Interpreting Service can be used for any private residential property matter, including but not limited to: 

  • signing new tenancy agreements
  • organising an inspection
  • consulting with owners wishing to sell their house
  • consulting with buyers wishing to buy a house
  • completing the sale of a house.

Download

Download the Free Interpreting Service - Real Estate Agencies information sheet.

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Local government authorities

Local government authorities (also known as local councils, cities or shires) can access the Free Interpreting Service to communicate with residents about most local government services.

Local government authorities provide essential services to their residents and will sometimes need the help of a credentialed interpreter to communicate with people who may have limited or no English language proficiency. This is particularly important when communicating complex or technical information and can facilitate better access to these services.

Eligibility

Local government authorities are eligible to access the Free Interpreting Service to communicate with any resident who is an Australian citizen or permanent resident.

The Free Interpreting Service can be used to deliver local government services and activities including, but not limited to: 

  • rates enquiries
  • parking and building permits
  • planning and urban services
  • local government funded community support services
  • emergency preparedness and response activities
  • local government funded library and recreation services
  • parks and public amenities services and maintenance
  • animal safety, control and registration (excludes compliance activities)
  • food or building safety and regulation (excludes compliance activities).

The Free Interpreting Service cannot be used by local government authorities for:

  • local tourism or other commercial activities
  • compliance visits (e.g. health and safety inspections)
  • citizenship ceremonies
  • services provided on behalf of another government body (i.e. services funded by state, territory or commonwealth governments).

Download

Download the Free Interpreting Service - Local Government Authorities information sheet.

Trade unions

Trade unions can access the Free Interpreting Service to assist members in accessing support and advice.

Trade unions represent the interests of their members and help them to access supports. Trade unions can use credentialed interpreters to communicate technical or complex information to members with limited or no English proficiency. This is particularly important when explaining entitlements, advocating on behalf of a member or promoting workplace health and safety.

Eligibility

Trade unions are eligible to access the Free Interpreting Service to communicate with Australian citizens or permanent residents.

The Free Interpreting Service can be used to provide support and advice to union members, including but not limited to: 

  • providing support and advice about
    • employment or award conditions
    • union services
    • occupational health and safety concerns
  • representing a member during a dispute resolution.

The Free Interpreting Services cannot be used by trade unions for:

  • contract negotiation
  • recruitment activities and membership drives
  • attending legal proceedings, where the responsibility for providing interpreting services lies with Fair Work Australia or the relevant court or tribunal
  • communicating with people on temporary visas, including students, temporary workers or others who are not Australian citizens or permanent residents.

If you need to communicate with members on matters not covered by the Free Interpreting Service you may wish to set up a user-pays code with TIS National.

Download

Download the Free Interpreting Service - Trade Unions information sheet.

Photo of Parliament House, Canberra, Australia, at sunset.

Parliamentarians

Parliamentarians and their staff can access the Free Interpreting Service to communicate with constituents.

As elected representatives, parliamentarians have a duty to communicate with their constituents, especially to advocate on their behalf. Parliamentarians can use credentialed interpreters to communicate complex or technical information to communities or individuals who may have limited or no English language proficiency.

Eligibility

All Australian parliamentarians and their staff are eligible to access the Free Interpreting Service if the parliamentarian is:

  • a current serving member of any federal, state or territory parliament. This includes Members of Parliament, Senators, Members of Legislative Assemblies and Legislative Councils.
  • using the service to communicate with constituents who are permanent residents or Australian citizens.

The Free Interpreting Service can be used for constituency purposes, including but not limited to: 

  • community consultations and forums
  • advocating on behalf of a constituent.

The Free Interpreting Services cannot be used for:

  • campaigning, party membership drives, fundraising or other party related activities
  • communicating with people on temporary visas, such as tourists, overseas students, or temporary work visas.

Download

Download the Free Interpreting Service - Parlimentarians information sheet.

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