Detailed guide: Whistleblowing: guidance for charity employees

Charities and whistleblowing: key points

Charity employees can report concerns about certain categories of serious wrongdoing at their charity to the Charity Commission.

The commission asks that whistleblowing reports are made in writing via the dedicated whistleblowing email address.

These employees have some protection in law under the Public Interest Disclosure Act (the Act) from detrimental treatment or victimisation from their employer if, in the public interest, they report concerns about serious wrongdoing at their charity to the commission, provided that the concerns they report meet the conditions in the Act for a ’protected disclosure’.

Who the Public Interest Disclosure Act protects

The Act protects most employees in the charity sector who report concerns about certain serious matters about their employer to the commission. The Act does not apply to:

  • genuinely self-employed professionals (other than in the NHS)
  • voluntary workers – this includes charity trustees (who should report concerns via serious incident reporting) and charity volunteers

How the Act protects charity employees

The Act protects employees in a number of ways, for example:

  • if a charity employee is dismissed because they have made a protected disclosure, that will be treated as unfair dismissal
  • they have a 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

What type of disclosures are protected

For a disclosure about a charity to be protected by the Act’s provisions:

  • it must be made to the commission
  • it must relate to at least one of the following matters that ‘qualify’ for protection:
    • 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
  • the employee must:
    • make the disclosure in good faith
    • reasonably believe that the relevant failure relates to ‘the proper administration of charities and funds given, or held, for charitable purposes’
    • reasonably believe that the information disclosed and any allegation contained in it are substantially true

It should be noted that where an employee 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.

How the commission deals with disclosures from whistleblowers

The commission considers whistleblowing disclosures in the same way that it considers complaints about charities from other sources.

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 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 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 subject to any enquiries made by the commission is entitled to know the nature of the allegations being made. Any person criticised by the commission as a result of any enquiry 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 made under s46 of the Charities Act 2011 may, in the public interest be published in an inquiry report.

Help and advice for potential whistleblowers

The charity Public Concern at Work provides free confidential advice to employees who have concerns about wrongdoing in the workplace. Contact the charity on 020 7404 6609.

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