The Government has this week launched a review of the UK’s current whistleblowing framework with the aim of developing and improving the existing regime and reviewing whether the objectives of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 (“PIDA”) are being met. Twenty-five years ago, PIDA was implemented to support wider cultural change on whistleblowing, to recognise the benefits of whistleblowing and to provide a framework for workers to make whistleblowing disclosures and to be protected from detriment and dismissal for doing so.
The existing UK framework
Recently, there has been an increased recognition of the importance of whistleblowing in uncovering wrongdoing, and the need to better protect those who speak up. Underpinning the launch of the Government’s review is the sharp increase in whistleblowing disclosures received by the Care Quality Commission and Health and Safety Executive during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the publication of data by Protect (the UK’s whistleblowing charity) which revealed that one in four Covid-19 whistleblowers were dismissed between September 2020 and March 2021.
Scope of the Government’s review
The Government’s press release identifies three central topics for review, as follows.
- Who is covered by whistleblowing protections.
- The availability of information and guidance for whistleblowing purposes (both on gov.uk and that provided by employers).
- How employers and prescribed persons respond to whistleblowing disclosures, including best practice.
The review will seek evidence from whistleblowers, employers, regulators and charities on the following key questions:
- how has the whistleblowing framework facilitated disclosures?
- how has the whistleblowing framework protected workers?
- is whistleblowing information available and accessible for workers, employers, prescribed persons and others?
- what have been the wider benefits and impacts of the whistleblowing framework, on employers, prescribed persons and others?
- what does best practice look like in responding to disclosures?
The review will also examine the definition of ‘worker’ for whistleblowing protections. It is expected to conclude in Autumn 2023.
The Government’s review into the effectiveness of the UK’s whistleblowing regime is timely. Following the UK’s departure from the EU, the UK has not implemented the EU Whistleblowing Directive. The UK’s legal regime for protection of whistleblowers has historically been one of the strongest in the world, coupled with additional regulation for financial services organisations and listed companies. But the EU Directive has imposed much more stringent obligations on businesses that fall within its scope – particularly on the process and timings for responding to whistleblowing disclosures, and protecting whistleblower anonymity. For a side-by-side comparison of whistleblower protections across multiple jurisdictions, please see our Expert Guide to Whistleblower Protection and Reporting Channels.
The outcome of this review may well ultimately put the UK on a closer footing with the EU Directive. Either way, organisations with a UK and EU presence will likely have to grapple in due course with another new regime and ensure that their policies and procedures are fit for purpose. The direction of travel towards greater protection for whistleblowers, and increased obligations on employers, is clear.
Authors: Hannah Netherton (Partner) and Matt Evans (Associate)