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Deciding to whistleblow

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What is whistleblowing?

Sometimes whistleblowing is called ‘speaking up’ or ‘raising a concern’. It’s all about making sure if you see something wrong in your workplace or organisation, you can report this to the right people - within the organisation or outside it. Whistleblowing protects everyone within the organisation, your beneficiaries and the organisation itself by identifying harm early so action can be taken.

This guide has a focus on whistleblowing relating to safeguarding issues, but it is also useful when thinking about any type of whistleblowing. It focuses on questions you might ask yourself as you decide to raise a whistleblowing concern.

If you're worried about the safety or wellbeing of someone your organisation works with

If you’re worried about the safety or wellbeing of a child or adult at risk (see our definition), you should start by finding out how your organisation deals with safeguarding concerns. If your concern is about anyone else, then you need to look for your organisations complaints procedure or the internal part of the whistleblowing procedure.

Hopefully your organisation has made it clear who you should speak to about safeguarding concerns. If you don’t know who to speak to, you should ask if the organisation has a designated safeguarding lead or a safeguarding policy and procedure that can tell you what to do next.

There is no need to have proof of harm or abuse before you report – a suspicion is enough.

What to do if you feel the safeguarding concern has not been addressed

You may believe your concern has not been dealt with. This might make you feel worried that your organisation is not taking safeguarding seriously.

This could happen in a number of ways including if:

  • you don't think your organisation has any safeguarding procedures to follow or those procedures are inappropriate
  • you feel it has been ignored by managers
  • the problem has occurred again
  • your worries have increased in severity or seriousness
  • you think your concern won't be dealt with properly or may be covered-up
  • you're are worried about being treated unfairly for raising the concern.

You’ll need to consider what other action you can take and whether internal or external whistleblowing should be your next step.

You can:

  • ask the person you reported to for an update on what happened
  • escalate the worry to someone more senior in the organisation such as a senior manager (e.g. an area manager, director or chief executive)
  • report to trustees or a member of a committee or board
  • look at the organisation’s whistleblowing policy to see who else you could report to externally.

If you are worried that your organisation is not taking safeguarding seriously or any acting unethically or illegally in other ways, you can consider telling an external organisation or people.

The law allows certain organisation to handle cases of whistleblowing which are in the public interest. They have obligations to investigate cases. You must make sure that you have chosen the correct person or organisation for your issue.

What happens after raising a whistleblowing concern

If you raise a concern with someone in your organisation, they will follow their established policies and procedures. They may want to discuss it with you to gain more information and to assess the nature and seriousness.

They may take some time to deal with it, but they should give you feedback on how your concern is progressing.

If you whistleblow externally the process will depend on the organisation you reported to, so make sure to ask them what to expect.

Will anything happen to me if I raise a concern?

It's not acceptable for anyone to be victimised for whistleblowing. Unfortunately, it still happens. The Public Interest Disclosure Act protects workers if they are bullied, harassed, dismissed or forced out of their job for raising whistleblowing concerns.

The protection from this law only applies to employed staff Volunteers are not included in this protection.

Nonetheless, if you’re a volunteer and you feel victimised for raising concerns then tell your organisation. Use your organisations volunteer problem solving policy if necessary. Though you don’t have the same rights as an employee, your organisation should still take the victimisation of a volunteer who is a whistleblower seriously.

Should I raise my concern anonymously?

How you speak up is important. Anonymously speaking up means no one knows who you are.

This may seem appealing but there are some potential downsides.

  • Investigation becomes harder because those carrying it out won’t be able to ask follow-up questions.
  • The organisation you work or volunteer for will be unable to protect you from victimisation because they will not know who you are.
  • Using the legal protection for whistleblowing staff will be almost impossible as you won’t be able to show you were the one who raised the concern.

Although there are downsides you may feel reporting anonymously is the only way to come forward with vital safeguarding information. If that's what feels safest to you, then do it that way.

If you can do, confidentially or openly raising concerns avoids these downsides as:

  • investigators can ask you follow up questions
  • the organisation, by knowing who you are, can protect you from victimisation
  • you can be legally protected if you’re a staff member who is identified as the whistleblower.

Confidentially raising a whistleblowing concern means whoever you’ve approached will keep your identity secret. There are however, limits to this secrecy. For example, if you’ve raised a concern in the past, people may guess your identity.

Openly speaking up about a worry is often safer. Openness makes it easier for the employer to investigate and get more information. It may also encourage others to come forward as they’ll know a concern has been raised. This is often only possible in workplaces where there’s a positive culture for raising concerns.

If you decide you want to report an issue and you do not want anyone else to know it was you who raised the concern, you must say this straight away to the person you share this with.

The difference between a grievance and a whistleblowing concern

A whistleblowing concern is when you witness a risk that affects someone other than yourself. For example, it could be that your organisation is not doing anything about flaws in a service that's provided to children, ultimately putting them at risk.

A grievance (for staff members) or complaint under problem solving procedures for volunteers is a personal issue which affects only you. For example, if you’re being bullied by a manager or colleague.

Whistleblowing helplines

Last reviewed: 06 December 2018

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This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 06 December 2018

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