FSA policy on handling disclosures made under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998

How the FSA handles disclosures made under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998.

What disclosures qualify for protection under the Act?

This Act protects workers from detrimental treatment or victimisation from their employer if, in the public interest, they blow the whistle on wrongdoing. (The Act applies in England, Wales and Scotland and there is parallel legislation for Northern Ireland: the Public Interest Disclosure (Northern Ireland) Order 1998.).

The legislation aims to increase the accountability of organisations in the public, private and voluntary sectors by enabling workers to bring to light wrongdoing confidentially and without detriment to them.

Workers (employees, contractors, trainees or agency staff) who are aware of wrongdoing within the food industry, including where they suspect or witness a breach in the welfare of an animal at slaughter, can disclose that wrongdoing with the benefit of the protections the Act affords, if they raise their concerns in accordance with the Act's provisions.

Local authority officers who wish to report significant performance related concerns about their local authority, another local authority or another officer, should where possible use the standard whistleblowing arrangements that exist in all local authorities for the investigation of such issues. However, if officers feel unable to use the local authority’s own reporting arrangements, they can contact us and their concerns will be investigated in line with our whistle-blowing policy.

Qualifying disclosures

For a disclosure to be protected by the Act's provisions, it must relate to matters that 'qualify' for protection under the Act. Qualifying disclosures are disclosures that the worker reasonably believes tend to show that 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 and safety of any individual
  • damage to the environment
  • deliberate concealment of information tending to show any of the above five matters

A qualifying disclosure to the Food Standards Agency will be a 'protected' disclosure provided the worker:

  • makes the disclosure in good faith
  • reasonably believes that the relevant failure relates to matters that may affect the health of any member of the public in relation to the consumption of food and other matters concerning the protection of the interests of consumers in relation to food
  • reasonably believes that the information disclosed and any allegation contained in it are substantially true

This protection is invoked automatically if the qualifying criteria are satisfied.

How the FSA will protect the interest of the whistleblower

The FSA will ensure that the whistleblower suffers no detriment as a result of making a public interest disclosure.

If the FSA receives a 'qualifying disclosure' then every effort will be made to protect the identity of the whistleblower, and any information that may lead to the identity of the whistleblower being deduced by his/her employer or any other party.

Information regarding a 'qualifying disclosure', including the name of the whistleblower, would also be exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (2000).

In the event of a criminal prosecution ensuing, a defendant may make an application to the court to order the FSA to disclose information relating to the identity of the whistleblower. The FSA would resist disclosure of his/her identity by arguing that such an order would not be in the public interest.

If you require confidential advice on what is protected by PIDA and how best to raise your concern, you may want to speak to your own solicitor or speak to the legal team at Public Concern at Work (an independent charity and a leading authority on public interest disclosures). You can contact them on 020 7404 6609, by email at helpline@pcaw.co.uk or you can look at their website http://www.pcaw.org.uk.