What is whistleblowing?
If you work for a public authority and you are concerned about wrongdoing, risk, or malpractice in an area relevant to our functions, you can raise concerns with the OEP. This is called ‘whistleblowing’ or ‘making a disclosure’.
We understand that making the decision to blow the whistle on your employer is a difficult one. As such, the OEP takes seriously the issue of maintaining the confidentiality of whistleblowers and we will protect your identity as far as possible.
However, we cannot guarantee your confidentiality. We may need to disclose your identity where we are required to do so, for example, by law. For further information on this, see the section on anonymity and confidentiality below. You should also recognise that you might be identifiable by others due to the nature or circumstances of the issue that you report.
We welcome information from whistleblowers for the valuable insights that they provide. As such, we log all disclosures. By doing this we will be able to better determine if your individual report is part of a wider and more systemic problem.
This means that you can make a disclosure to the OEP rather than your employer, as long as you meet the definition of a worker in relation to the organisation you are whistleblowing about.
Who is a worker?
A ‘worker’ is a defined legal term and includes, for example, permanent and temporary employees and agency staff. Although not exhaustive, examples of workers for the purposes of this policy could include someone who works for:
- a government department who we regulate, such as the Environment Agency, Natural England, Defra, Ofwat, etc.
- a public authority who we regulate, such as a local, district, or borough council
- a private body exercising a public function, such as a water company, a rail operator, or a housing authority
A more complete, but by no means exhaustive, list of public authorities with environmental responsibilities: https://www.theoep.org.uk/what-we-can-investigate
The term ‘worker’ does not apply to volunteers or members of the public.
If you raise a concern about wrongdoing, risk or malpractice in your workplace and you are treated negatively in any way for doing so, then this may be a breach of your legal rights under employment law. You may be able exercise your rights under the legislation to bring an Employment Tribunal.
To qualify for protections, your disclosure must meet certain criteria. Some of these are set out on gov.uk/whistleblowing
In addition, you must reasonably believe:
that wrongdoing has occurred or is likely to occur – the most relevant to our work are:
- failure to comply with a legal obligation
- endangerment of the health or safety of any individual
- damage to the environment
the matter you are reporting is related to the OEP’s functions which are set out in our strategy and encompass:
- scrutinising Environmental Improvement Plans (EIPs) and targets
- scrutinising the implementation of environmental law
- advising on proposed changes to environmental law and other matters related to the natural environment
- investigation and enforcement of suspected serious failures to comply with environmental law by public authorities
You must also reasonably believe that the information you are reporting is substantially true.
Whistleblowing and support
We recognise that if you are considering blowing the whistle (making a disclosure) then you may have questions about your legal rights.
The OEP cannot give you legal advice. As such we suggest finding out more information here: Government guidance on whistleblowing
We also encourage you to contact an organisation who may be able to provide you support before you blow the whistle, such as:
- Protect – a whistleblowing charity who provide free and confidential advice, their helpline is 020 3117 2520
- ACAS - the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, who provide employees with free and impartial advice on workplace rights and rules
- A trade body or union – If available to you, a trade body or union may also be able to provide you with advice or information
You may also want to seek independent legal advice before blowing the whistle.
We cannot guarantee your confidentiality. There may be circumstances in which we need to disclose your identity because we are legally required to do so. You should also recognise that you might be identifiable by others due to the nature or circumstances of your concern. However, we take the issue of maintaining the confidentiality of whistleblowers seriously and we will protect your identity as far as possible.
If you are worried about being identified as a whistleblower, you can make a disclosure to the OEP anonymously. We treat anonymous disclosures in the same way we treat those made by named individuals. However, it is important to understand that, if you make a disclosure to us anonymously, we may not be able to investigate your concerns as effectively.
We encourage you to give us information in writing, even if you initially contact us by telephone. If you are worried about doing this, we would prefer you to provide an anonymous written disclosure to us, rather than not raise a concern at all.
What to expect
We take whistleblowing reports seriously and every disclosure we receive will be individually reviewed.
The action we will take in response to your disclosure will depend on the nature of the information you have provided.
Following your initial report, we will confirm receipt if you have provided contact details to us.
We will consider the information you have provided to determine our next steps which may include:
- contacting you for further information if needed
- considering whether your disclosure is something we ought to investigate
- sharing your information with other organisations, such as government departments, enforcement agencies and the police if required by law. When this would be helpful but is not required by law, we will seek your consent prior to sharing your information
- suggesting to you another course of action if the information you have provided does not relate to our functions
We are not able to provide you with periodic updates on the progress of your disclosure. However, if you choose to provide us with your contact details then we will inform you if your disclosure leads to an investigation.
We will need to factor our strategic objectives and organisational priorities when determining how we respond to a disclosure. As such, it may be that we are unable to take any action in relation to the information that you provide.
The more detail you can give us, the more it will help us assess your concern. It would be useful if you could provide information such as:
- details of the people and organisations involved, including, if relevant, where the issue took place
- full details of your concerns
- key dates
We do not encourage you to gather any further information from any source, whatever the circumstances. This might infringe privacy rights or other legal requirements. However, we may ask you to clarify the information you provide to us.
How to contact the OEP with your concerns
We encourage you to use the whistleblowing procedures in your workplace, in the first instance. If there aren’t any or if you don’t feel able to do so (for whatever reason), then please contact us via:
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Phone: +44 (0)330 236 92109
Monday to Friday: 9am to 5pm
Closed on weekends and bank holidays.
Your call will be handled by a Complaints Officer who has completed whistleblowing training. If an officer is unavailable at the time of your call, then you will be put through to an answering service that is only available to a select few members of the team. After hours calls will also be forwarded directly to this answer service.
- Write to:
The Disclosure Team
Office for Environmental Protection
We will produce a report annually, setting out any disclosures received, and any action taken. This report will be published on our website.
The OEP’s whistleblowing policy enables you to raise concerns about your employer’s responsibilities and obligations relating to complying with environmental law or implementing environmental law.
It may be helpful for you to provide us with your contact details (an email address, for example) and preferred method of contact to help us to investigate your disclosure. Where possible, please do not use shared email addresses or email addresses from your workplace email to contact us. This may risk your identity becoming known.
It may be necessary for us to collect and hold personal information about you in order to investigate your concerns. We will hold the information you provide to us securely and use it to help us handle and process your whistleblowing disclosure. Your information will be stored securely, and access to it will be restricted to members of our whistleblowing team. For more information, please see our privacy notice.