Financial Regulations

Main features of the Public Interest Disclosure Act (1999)

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1 Summary

The Act came into force on 2 July 1999. It encourages people to blow the whistle about malpractice in the workplace and is designed to ensure that organisations respond by acting on the message rather than against the messenger. The Act applies to employees blowing the whistle about crime, civil offences (including negligence, breach of contract, etc), miscarriage of justice, danger to health and safety or the environment and the cover-up of any of these. It applies whether or not the information is confidential and extends to malpractice occurring in the UK and any other country or territory. In addition to employees, it covers trainees, agency staff, contractors, home workers, trainees and every professional in the NHS. Employment law restrictions on minimum length of service and age do not apply. At present, the Act does not cover the genuinely self-employed, volunteers, the army, intelligence services or police officers. The Act has been described as 'the most far-reaching whistleblower protection in the world'.

2 Internal Disclosures

A disclosure in good faith to a manager or the employer will be protected if the whistleblower has a reasonable suspicion that the malpractice has occurred, is occurring or is likely to occur.

3 Regulatory Disclosures

The Act protects disclosures made in good faith to prescribed bodies such as the Health and Safety Executive, the Financial Services Authority and the Inland Revenue, where the whistleblower has a reasonable belief that the information and their allegation(s) are substantially true.

4 Wider Disclosures

Wider disclosures (eg to the police, the media, MPs, and non-prescribed regulators) are protected if, in addition to the tests for regulatory disclosures, they are reasonable in all the circumstances and they meet one of the three preconditions. Provided they are not made for personal gain, these preconditions are that the whistleblower:

  • reasonably believed they would be victimised if they raised the matter internally or with a designated regulator;
  • reasonably believed a cover-up was likely and there was no regulator;
  • had already raised the matter internally or with a prescribed regulator.

An employee who makes a wide, public disclosure is more likely to be protected if there was no internal procedure set up.

5 Full Protection

Where the whistleblower is victimised in breach of the Act they can bring a claim to an employment tribunal for compensation. Awards are uncapped and based on the losses suffered. Additionally, where an employee is sacked, they may apply for an interim order to keep their job. Not all disclosures made by an employee are protected under the Act. Those that are include criminal acts, health and safety violations, breaches of legislation and miscarriages of justice. However, such acts are only protected as long as the disclosure is made in good faith to the employer, or any other person authorised under a procedure set up by the employer for this purpose. (Disclosures can also be made to appropriate regulatory bodies, such as the Health and Safety Executive.) Where an employee reasonably suspects malpractice (and this includes any crime), they will be protected from victimisation where they raise the matter in good faith with a person who is legally responsible for whistleblowing.

6 Qualifying Areas

The qualifying areas consist of information that the employee reasonably believes tends to show one or more of the following matters is either happening now, took place in the past, or is likely to happen in the future:

  • a criminal offence
  • the breach of a legal obligation
  • a miscarriage of justice
  • a danger to the health or safety of any individual
  • damage to the environment
  • deliberate covering up of information tending to show any of the above five matters.