Regulators with the power to receive and investigate whistleblowing disclosures are not adequately prepared to deal with confidential information from potential whistleblowers – according to new research by Middlesex University.

Some fourteen years after the relevant legislation came into force, a quarter of the 54 regulators contacted by employment law experts Professor David Lewis and Arron Phillips from Middlesex University did not have a designated person or team in place to receive disclosures, in accordance with the legislation. The research also uncovered inadequate online information on the regulators websites and a centralised Government list of these organisations, known as ‘prescribed persons’* that is out of date.

The need for regulators to be able to deal effectively with concerns that are brought to their attention has been demonstrated recently in relation to both the health service and residential care sector at Mid-Staffs Hospital and the treatment of people at Winterbourne View.

The research focused on organisations such as the Independent Police Complaints Commission, Care Quality Commission, Financial Conduct Authority and the Health and Safety Executive, which are required to receive reports of suspected wrongdoing. Some organisations provided adequate information and have systems in place, but others are not fulfilling their role, according to Professor Lewis and Arron Phillips.

Their findings included:

  • One in four regulators questioned did not have a designated person or team in their organisation to help whistleblowers
  • It was hard for the public or would-be whistleblowers to find information online
  • The list of organisations who are prescribed to receive reports from whistleblowers was not kept up-to-date by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS).
  • When asked, two organisations claimed they didn’t know they were a ‘prescribed person’, and ten didn’t specify whether they were or not
  • 50% of organisations said they had not received training on how to deal with people blowing the whistle
  • Several organisations including the Care Quality Commission didn’t respond to the questionnaire

Middlesex University Professor of Employment Law David Lewis said: “The failure of some organisations to have a designated person or team to receive a disclosure is of concern.”

“The lack of an accurate centralised list of these organisations is a worry. If the Government list is not kept fully up to date, how can whistleblowers be expected to navigate the legislation and disclose to appropriate external recipients?

“When an organisation nominated as a ‘prescribed person’ it should be mandatory for it to name either a person or a department and make this known both internally and externally. It can’t be right that a person wishing to disclose potentially urgent or important information could be passed around between teams.”

The study included a questionnaire and a website search of 54 prescribed persons. As a result of their research Professor David Lewis and Arron Phillips made a series of recommendations including:

  • The central list of prescribed persons must be maintained and updated regularly.
  • All organisations nominated as prescribed persons should be provided with sufficient training to enable them to fulfil their role
  • It should be a mandatory for all prescribed persons to have a designated individual or team to receive disclosures of information made in accordance with the statutory whistleblowing provisions
  • All prescribed persons should have a policy and procedure specifically for workers making external disclosures to them