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This publication is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-public-interest-disclosure-act/the-public-interest-disclosure-act
1. What does the Act do?
The Act protects workers from detrimental treatment or victimisation from their employer if, in the public interest, they blow the whistle on wrongdoing.
2. Who does it cover?
The Act protects most workers in the public, private and voluntary sectors. The Act does not apply to genuinely self-employed professionals (other than in the NHS), voluntary workers (including charity trustees and charity volunteers) or the intelligence services.
3. How does the Act protect workers?
The Act protects workers in a number of ways, for example:
if an employee is dismissed because he has made a protected disclosure that will be treated as unfair dismissal
in any event workers are given a new right not to be subjected to any ‘detriment’ by their employers on the ground that they have made a protected disclosure, and to present a complaint to an employment tribunal if they suffer detriment as a result of making a protected disclosure
4. How does the Act affect charities?
Through the introduction of protection for workers who blow the whistle on wrongdoing within or concerning an organisation, the legislation aims to increase the accountability of organisations in the public, private and voluntary sectors. Charities (as part of the voluntary sector) are within the jurisdiction of the Act.
5. Disclosing information to a regulatory body
The Act makes special provision for disclosures to ‘prescribed persons’. The Charity Commission is the regulatory body to whom workers can make appropriate disclosures on matters relating to ‘the proper administration of charities and funds given, or held, for charitable purposes’.
Workers who are aware of wrongdoing within a charity or a non-charitable body (where this involves the administration of charities or charitable funds) can now disclose that wrongdoing with the benefit of the protections the Act affords, if they make raise their concerns in accordance with the Act’s provisions.
6. What type of disclosures will be protected?
For a disclosure to be protected by the Act’s provisions it must relate to matters that ‘qualify’ for protection under the Act. Qualifying disclosures are disclosures which the worker reasonably believes tends to show that one or more of the following matters is either happening now, took place in the past, or is likely to happen in the future:
a criminal offence
the breach of a legal obligation
a miscarriage of justice
a danger to the health and safety of any individual
damage to the environment
deliberate concealment of information tending to show any of the above five matters
A qualifying disclosure to the commission will be a ‘protected’ disclosure provided the worker:
makes the disclosure in good faith
reasonably believes that the relevant failure relates to ‘the proper administration of charities and funds given, or held, for charitable purposes’
reasonably believes that the information disclosed and any allegation contained in it are substantially true
Workers can ‘whistleblow’ directly to the commission by email to firstname.lastname@example.org when they have concerns that fall within the above description. It should be noted that where a worker is victimised for making a disclosure to the commission, any claim they may have under the Act is against his or her employer and not against the commission.
7. How will the commission deal with disclosures?
In the normal course of the commission’s work supporting and supervising charities members of the public often contact it with information about the management/activities/trustees of charitable funds. The commission considers all concerns it is approached with.
The action the commission will take as a result of the concerns brought to its attention will of course depend on the nature of these concerns. The commission’s guidance Complaints about charities explains in general terms what happens when a concern is raised with the commission and gives examples of the powers it has to investigate these concerns and to put matters right.
The commission will respect confidences so far as it is able, with due regard to the individual’s rights to privacy under data protection and human rights legislation. However, a person who is under inquiry is entitled to know the nature of the allegations being made, and any person criticised by the commission as a result of an inquiry has a right to be told the nature of the evidence upon which the criticism has been based.
While the commission will take every step to try to ensure that a complainant’s identity is not revealed without their consent, in some cases the nature of the allegations or evidence may give an indication as to their source. Also, in limited cases there may be an obligation to reveal information under freedom of information legislation or by order of the court in legal proceedings. Information obtained in the course of an inquiry may, in the public interest be published in an inquiry report.
8. Further information
The charity Public Concern at Work provides free confidential advice to workers who have concerns about wrongdoing in the workplace. The charity can be contacted by telephone on 020 7404 6609.