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Challenges and issues in whistleblowing

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Different types of concern

Whitleblowing concern

A whistleblowing concern is when a person witnesses an issue or risk that affects someone other than themselves. They may see that a charity's intended beneficiary is directly affected by an act or decision within their organisation or that the organisation has a serious safeguarding issue which they are not addressing.


A grievance is a complaint made by a staff member about behaviour which affects them directly.

Volunteer problem

A volunteer problem is a complaint made by a volunteer about behaviour by staff, other volunteers or anyone they work with which affects them directly.

Legally grievance, volunteer problems and whistleblowing or raising concerns are different. Even in a small organisation, it’s important to understand the differences so you can provide the right kind of support. Your policies must make this clear for everyone.

Reporting openly, confidentially or anonymously?

You should always encourage people to raise concerns openly. If you know who’s raised a concern, it’s easier to investigate it. It’s also easier to protect that person from being victimised. If your procedures are strong, people will be more confident in speaking out openly.

You must give people the option of reporting confidentially. This is when the person raising the concern gives their name, on the basis that it won't be revealed without their consent. You must stick to this promise and investigate.

You must also give staff and volunteers the option of raising a concern anonymously. This is when the person reporting doesn’t say who they are. When this happens, it’s harder for an organisation to investigate, as it can be difficult to get any further information. However, it may be the only way some people feel confident to speak up.

When you write your policy you should be aware of these differences. You should use the policy to encourage people to raise concerns openly or confidentially, but you should also make it clear that anonymous reporting is an option.

Staff and volunteers who are receiving reports must understand these differences. They must also understand how to maintain confidentiality.

What if a whistleblower has an agenda?

Sometimes people suspect whistleblowers have a personal goal in whistleblowing. You might be concerned they have a personal grudge or political motivation. This should never stop you and your organisation from taking their concern seriously. You must always investigate thoroughly and you should never punish or victimise the whistleblower because of your suspicions.

There is only one case where whistleblowers should be criticised for their actions. If, after investigation, you discover someone raised a concern knowing it was untrue, then this is considered a malicious action. Situations like this are rare and should be handled carefully, confidentially and often with legal guidance.

Next steps

Last reviewed: 06 December 2018

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This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 06 December 2018

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