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Survey of UK whistle-blowing

Despite most – more than 90 per cent – of companies adopting formal whistle-blowing policies, half (54pc) said they do not train key members of staff designated to receive concerns and nearly half of companies (44pc) confuse personal complaints with whistle-blowing.

That is according to a survey of UK businesses’ whistle-blowing policies, by a UK whistle-blowing charity, Public Concern at Work (PCaW) and the audit firm EY, also found that one in three respondents believe their whistle-blowing arrangements are not effective. The survey asked senior staff from over 30 sectors, including central Government, banking, healthcare and construction, about their company’s whistle-blowing policy, representing according to PCaW the most in-depth and comprehensive survey of this kind.

Cathy James, Chief Executive at Public Concern at Work, says: “While it is encouraging that a large number of companies have formal whistle-blowing policies in place, it is deeply worrying to see how these policies are being implemented and managed.
“There appears to be a box-ticking culture emerging, rubber stamping policies which are not effective and that do not provide advice and support to whistle-blowers – this could lead to serious issues being unreported or ignored. Training for staff dealing with whistle-blowing concerns, which can be extremely complicated and often sector specific, appears to be woefully inadequate.”

Survey findings

one in ten do not include procedures on how to protect a whistle-blower, which is the main reason why a worker might not speak up ;

41 per cent do not or do not know if their organisation provides feedback or progress updates to whistle-blowers;

Only 30 per cent tell staff how they can approach a regulator –a necessary part of good practice; and

53 per cent say their regulator does not review their arrangements

Regulators, according to PCaW, should be taking a lead on this as they are in an ideal position to have an overarching sector view of individual organisations’ whistle-blowing policies. They should be playing a central role in overseeing and reviewing arrangements to ensure consistency, effectiveness and best practice.

Cathy James adds: “What is most disappointing in this survey is the regulator involvement in reviewing whistle-blowing arrangements. Regulators should be playing a pivotal role in ensuring arrangements in their sector are easy to understand, backed by top management and, above all, effective.”

The survey also sees a lack of clarity over who is responsible for the day-to-day running of whistle-blowing arrangements – with over nine different departments claiming responsibility.

John Smart, EY Head of Fraud Investigation and Dispute Services, says: “Having an effective whistle-blowing policy in place is crucial to any organisation’s attempt to tackle its fraud, or corruption risks. The reality is that many companies either do not fully understand their whistle-blowing arrangements, or fail to have confidence in them. Despite so many high profile investigations over the past few years, many complaints are still ignored and those who blow the whistle on malpractice are marginalised. To be effective, it is essential that the whistle blowing arrangement is well-advertised and is trusted by those who may use it. Confidentiality and protection of the whistle-blower are key aspects of trust, as is demonstrating that a complaint will be taken seriously. A key feature is the need for adequately resourced and suitably experienced personnel being responsible for the triaging of reports.”

Cathy James adds: “Recent scandals in many sectors, including banking, healthcare, construction and even in the media, might have been prevented if it had been easier and safer to speak up and whistle-blowers had been listened to. It is time for companies and the regulators alike to take the problem seriously.”

About the survey

The survey in October 2013 saw interviewed 164 senior members of staff in charge of whistle-blowing policy across 30 sectors. These organisations ranged from less than 500 employees to over 50,000 employees and were based in the UK. The survey was conducted in association with EY for Public Concern at Work.

About Public Concern at Work

Public Concern at Work, a whistle-blowing charity, runs a free, confidential advice line for workers with whistle-blowing dilemmas, supports organisations with their whistle-blowing arrangements, and campaigns for legislative reform. Visit


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