Whistleblowing charity Protect is calling for the Charity Commission to introduce whistleblowing rules or regulations for the sector, following serious failings at the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) – which the watchdog has called ‘one of the worst examples of poor governance and oversight having a direct impact on vulnerable people’.

The Commission has issued an alert to all large complex charities about the importance of safeguarding processes, governance and whistleblowing following the inquiry into the RNIB. The failings led to repeated incidents where young people in its schools and residential homes were put at risk, or suffered harm and distress.

Protect Chief Executive Liz Gardiner said, “We welcome the Charity Commission’s reminder to charities to ensure they have effective whistleblowing or Speak Up arrangements, and the emphasis on anti-retaliation measures towards whistleblowers.  However, asking charities to be ‘mindful of the issue’  may not be enough to really drive forward change.

The time has come to introduce whistleblowing rules in this sector.  Rules which can be enforced by the regulator will help guide charities on the standards expected of them in this area and hold those falling short to account.

As we saw in our research into charity sector whistleblowing, Time To Transform,  there is more work needed in the third sector to prevent the victimisation of whistleblowers, and train staff in how to effectively act on concerns raised.”

#TimeToTransform


Protect is seeking reassurance from HMRC that whistleblowers who contact the tax authority over furlough fraud will not be faced with paying back their employers’ fraud, or face prosecution if their employer forces them to work while on the scheme.

Calls to Protect’s Advice Line have seen record-high levels, with  more than 250 calls related to furlough fraud – the single biggest issue Protect has dealt with in its 27-year history. During the three-month lockdown, from March 23-June 23, our Advice Line has handled more than 1,120 calls.

Protect has recently responded to a HMRC consultation giving new powers to HMRC under the Finance Bill.

Head of Policy Andrew Pepper-Parsons said, “Our concern is the powers could be turned against whistleblowers and should be reserved for use against those who sign off the fraud. Whistleblowers have no say, let alone any power over the decision to be furloughed and face the prospect of dismissal if they then refuse to work while being on the scheme  If the Government can reassure directors that genuine mistakes over applying for the scheme will not be prosecuted whistleblowers should be given a similar commitment.

Many calls to Protect’s Advice Line on furlough fraud have been around whistleblowers own liability in relation to the fraud.  Much like the assurances given to directors that mistakes won’t be punished, we’d like to see this extended to whistleblowers.”

Protect statistics (as of June 15)

Top three industries (92% of which are from private sector)  are from :

Hospitality (20%)

Manufacturing (12%)

Retail (12%).

Of the furlough cases received -66% – have been from organisations with less than 50 staff.

Protect has also raised with HMRC officials concerns over the closure of HMRC’s fraudand if an alternative – such as a secure live chat option – could and will be provided for people who seek reassurance about reporting fraud. We appreciate some modest changes have been made to the website since Protect’s conversation but we would like more to be done.

“The other reassurance we seek-  and it is a big unknown – with so many reports being made to HMRC we would like to know a firm plan is in place to investigate the thousands of fraud reports received by HMRC” said Andrew Pepper-Parsons.

 

What a concerned worker can do if concerned:

Check the Government Guidance

Though the guidance has changed many times it is a good resource to look at what the Government have produced for workers, and what they expect from employers. This will give any concerned worker an idea of whether what the employer is doing breaches this or not.

Consider raising it first internally

Raising the concerns externally

If you do not feel that internal channels will be effective, or if you have already raised the concern internally, you can contact HMRC on their Fraud Reporting via their online form.  You can also contact Protect for advice through our online form or by calling 020 3117 2520


Research by Protect – Silence in The City 2 –  into whistleblowers who work in finance in the City has found 70% who spoke up about workplace wrongdoing were victimised, ignored, dismissed, or felt forced to resign after whistleblowing.

The research analyses the whistleblowing cases of 352 finance workers who called the Protect Advice Line for advice about workplace wrongdoing they had witnessed between January 2017 and December 2019.

Head of Policy at Protect, Andrew Pepper-Parsons, said, “We conducted research in 2012 with law firm Slater & Gordon and our report Silence in the City looked into the experience of whistleblowing in the financial services sector.  At that time the financial crash and Libor scandal raised the question – why hadn’t whistleblowers come forward with concerns? Our research back then found a lack of trust and transparency. We decided it was time to once again scrutinise our Advice Line data and look at calls from finance workers.”

Silence in the City 2, once again published with the support of Slater & Gordon, found although more workers are raising concerns with their employer since 2012, 70% were being victimised, ignored or felt forced to resign after blowing the whistle. Discrimination and harassment cases now form part of the top six concerns raised by whistleblowers.

Key findings: (SITC – Silence in the City)

  • 70% of whistleblowers were either victimised, dismissed or resigned
  • Discrimination and harassment cases form a top concern raised by whistleblowers (possibly due to the #MeToo movement)
  • Top concerns – 19% has shifted from fraudulent or criminal activity in SITC1 which includes theft of client’s funds, expenses fraud etc. (19%), to legal or regulatory breaches e.g. mis-selling of financial products, failure to follow compliance rules around loans etc.
  • 33% of concerns were ignored – a disappointing increase from 30% in Silence in the City 2012)
  • More trust among whistleblowers to use internal whistleblowing arrangements – SITC1 found 78% of whistleblowers raised their concerns internally, i.e. with their employers, new research SITC2, shows increase to 93%.
  • Whistleblowers are 10% more likely to raise their concern a second time. In SITC1, only 20% of financial services whistleblowers raised their concern a second time, in SITC2 this has risen to 30%.

One case study in Silence in the City 2, is ‘Carl’ (whose name has been changed) explained he blew the whistle on sexual harassment, bullying and racism after more than ten colleagues, across nine different departments were affected. His life was made difficult after blowing the whistle and he felt resignation was the only way out.

He said, “I don’t in all my years think I’ve known so many grown men and grown women tell me the trauma they’ve gone through and I’m not the sort of person that upsets easily. It’s been extremely upsetting to see people abuse their position of power and misuse authority to gain benefit.”

Clive Howard, Principal Employment Lawyer at Slater & Gordon, said, “That 7 in 10 raising concerns were victimised for doing so and a third reported that their concerns were ignored is deeply troubling. The findings from Silence in the City 2 confirm our own experiences with clients, blowing the whistle is a lonely exercise in Financial Services. The whistleblower invariably is forced to act alone, raising their concern without any support from colleagues.”

Protect says whilst positive there is much more awareness and trust by employees in the internal whistleblowing arrangements put in place by employers, and more employees are whistleblowing and giving their employers the opportunity to put things right – this could very easily be reversed if organisations don’t change their behaviour towards staff who speak up.

Protect Chief Executive Liz Gardiner said, “Cultural change in financial services sector has stalled.   There needs to be more than lip-service to the stronger rules and regulations imposed on the sector – whistleblowers are speaking up, but our research suggests too many employers are not listening-up in response.  A failure to listen to the concerns raised – and failure to prevent whistleblowers being victimised – may increase the risk of harm and wrongdoing going unchecked.”

Read the report Silence in The City


We would like to express our huge thanks to our Legal Support Network – made up of lawyers and barristers –who are helping us with case work for whistleblowers who have contacted us.

Our Advice Line is extremely busy and we are experiencing unprecedented record high call levels. Our Advisers are taking calls from all sectors but the biggest concern we are dealing with are concerns around furlough fraud.

In the last few weeks we have been able to refer pro bono case work to our Legal Support Network who have been helping with the following issues:

  • Reviewing documents including applications to employment tribunals
  • Advising on cases around ‘worker status’ – looking at whistleblowing protection for contractors and other unusual employee relationships
  • Advising on merits of appeal to Employee Appeal Tribunal
  • Advising on alternative types of claim other than employment tribunal – for example pursuing a claim via the High Court
  • Advising on complex Non-Disclosure Agreements

Protect Legal Officer Hari Raithatha said, “We are extremely grateful to colleagues in our Legal Support Network for the invaluable support they have provided to whistleblowers during one of the busiest times our charity has ever experienced. The important role whistleblowing plays in keeping us all safe from harm has been highlighted during Covid-19.

“We hope that employers will listen-up when concerns are raised – but we’re grateful to the many lawyers and barristers who have kindly agreed to help.”

Protect’s Legal Support Network:

Daniel Stilitz QC of 11KBW

Mukhtiar Singh of Garden Court Chambers

Joseph England of 3PB

Chris Milsom of Cloisters Chambers

James Laddie QC of Matrix Chambers

Solicitors Paul Daniels at Keystone Law

Leigh Day Solicitors

Slater & Gordon Lawyers

Harrison Clark Rickerbys

Kingsley Napley

Landau Law

We would like to welcome Nick Siddall QC, Ed Kemp, Ben Gray, James Wynne, Sophia Berry, Kieran Wilson and Jeremy Lewis of Littleton Chambers to Protect’s Pro Bono Legal Support Network.

If further law firms or Chambers wished to lend their support and advice during the Covid 19 crisis, Protect are co-ordinating pro bono work. Please contact hari@protect-advice.org.uk


Protect’s Head of Policy, Andrew Pepper-Parsons features in the latest issue of Care Markets magazine, discussing how Covid-19 has affected the sector.

Protect, the UK whistleblowing charity, helps whistleblowers safely raise concerns about wrongdoing, abuse or poor practice. We run an advice line where whistleblowers can call us for free confidential advice about how to raise their concern. We also work with organisations to help them create strong, accessible whistleblowing cultures, and we carry out training, consultancy and organisational reviews when things have gone badly wrong.

In terms of Covid-19, our advice line has been extremely busy with record high call levels, exceeding our annual 3,000 calls. Since lockdown, 44% of our care cases have been on issues from a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) to worries about having to work when the person should be self-isolating. We’ve even had calls about care home staff being refused to bring in their own PPE. Sadly, we’ve also heard from whistleblowers who have been victimised or dismissed when they raised their concerns with their employers.

Prior to lockdown, calls from care providers made up around 11% of calls, and we’ve seen a slight rise. When a whistleblowing story features prominently in the media, as we saw with the #Metoo movement and as we have seen in the pandemic itself with the PPE crisis, it can encourage more people to speak up. But people are also scared for their job security and livelihoods so may choose to stay silent about concerns. It is vital employers reassure staff, they encourage speaking up and do not victimise staff for doing so.

If calls to our advice line are a snap-shot of the wider picture in the care sector, then it appears that a great many care homes have a poor, or worse, a non-existent whistleblowing culture. Covid-19 has shone a light on the importance of key workers who have all continued to work during the pandemic. NHS and care workers have rightly been called heroes for putting their own lives at risk to care for the sick and elderly residents in care and nursing homes.

I hope the pandemic shines a light on the importance of healthy whistleblowing policies and processes in the care sector and why it is vital to have in place a healthy ‘speak up and listen up’ culture for care staff. Staff are the eyes and ears of an organisation and can act as an early warning system of potential risk or malpractice. Staff who feel comfortable raising a concern, or whistleblowing, may possibly save lives or complex litigation down the line. But care staff need to feel supported and know they will be listened to. At Protect, in addition to our advice line, we support organisations to put in place best practice arrangements and help train those who handle whistleblowing matters. We do work with some care providers but would like to work with many more. It seems many care providers have not yet recognised the value of whistleblowing – I really hope the pandemic changes that and more operators will come to see its value too.

This blog is published in Care Markets, June 2020