Whistleblowing

whistle blowing
FSA policy on handling 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.

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 use best efforts to 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.

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.

How the FSA will handle information received

The FSA is able to receive information, in person, by telephone, in writing or by email, from a whistleblower. The FSA may contact the whistleblower in order to communicate our policy on handling any qualifying disclosure, for example to tell him/her that we are acting on the information he/she provided, provide assurances that we will protect his/her identity, and to refer him/her to sources of further information and advice.

The FSA will not ask whistleblowers for any other information they have, or ask them to collect any further information, because this may take the FSA into the situation of operating an informant. This would be regulated under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. If the FSA wishes to use an informant, we will consult our legal advisers in advance to ensure the relevant procedures are followed.

The FSA will communicate to the relevant enforcement body - generally local authorities or staff within the FSA’s Operations division - the detail of the disclosure and, where relevant, the fact that it was provided by a whistleblower, but will not make any reference to the identity of the whistleblower. The FSA will urge the enforcement body to investigate the basis of any 'qualifying disclosure' in such a way that it does not inadvertently reveal the identity of the whistleblower.

Where the FSA is the relevant enforcer it will ensure that robust procedures are in place and are followed, to avoid the identity of the whistleblower being unintentionally disclosed to internal investigators.

If you have concerns which you wish the FSA to treat as a whistleblowing case please contact the Agency’s National Food Crime Unit via foodcrime@foodstandards.gsi.gov.uk

Sources of further advice

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has a brief guide to the Act. This can be accessed via the 'external sites' link on this page.

The charity Public Concern at Work provides free confidential advice to workers who have concerns about wrongdoing in the workplace. The charity can be contacted at 3rd Floor, 6-10 Borough High Street, London SE1 9QQ, or by telephone on 020 7404 6609 or by email at whistle@pcaw.org.uk.