Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998
1.1. The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 came into force on 2nd July 1999 and has been amended by the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013. This legislation gives legal protection to employees against being dismissed or penalised by their employers for publicly disclosing serious concerns falling in certain specified categories. It also gives protection to employees against suffering a detriment, bullying or harassment from another employee for publicly disclosing serious concerns falling within certain specified categories.
1.2. The Act is not designed to support a claim from an employee about a breach of their own contract of employment. In this circumstance the individual is encouraged to raise any concerns with their manager or HR Consultant Business Partner in the first instance and is able to access the UCL Grievance Policy.
1.3. It is a fundamental term of employment that an employee will faithfully serve his or her employer, and will not disclose confidential information about the employer's operations, which is calculated or likely to destroy the mutual trust and confidence on which the employment relationship is based. However, where an individual discovers apparent evidence of malpractice, impropriety or wrongdoing within the organisation, then the information should be disclosed appropriately without fear of reprisal. Indeed it is hoped that malpractice itself will be discouraged by the protection given to those who disclose information that is genuinely in the public interest.
Summary of UCL's Policy
1.4. University College London (UCL) is committed to the highest standards of openness, probity and accountability. In conducting its business UCL takes account of the requirements of its funding bodies for the proper use of public funds and of the standards in public life set out in the Reports of the Government's Committee on Standards in Public Life (the Nolan Committee).
1.5. The purpose of this UCL Policy Statement on Public Interest Disclosure is to offer advice about how such "public" disclosure should be made for protection under the Act and how each case will then be handled. Members of UCL are expected to use the Policy procedure rather than air outside UCL any such concerns which they may have. Any member of UCL who chooses to make a disclosure outside UCL (including e.g. to the press) without using the UCL procedure may not be protected under the Act and may be subject to internal UCL disciplinary procedures.
1.6. It should be emphasised that the UCL Policy, in accordance with the Public Interest Disclosure Act, is concerned with alleged malpractice, impropriety or wrongdoing in the workplace. It is not designed to provide a route through which individuals can publicly question financial or business decisions taken by UCL, and it offers no protection to such individuals. Neither may the Policy be used to obtain a rehearing of matters which have already been addressed under other UCL procedures such as Allegations of Financial Irregularity, Allegations of Misconduct in Academic Research, Centralised Complaints Procedure, Sexual Harassment, Racial Harassment, Grievance or Disciplinary procedures or such other procedures as may be adopted by UCL in the future.
2. Scope of the Policy
2.1. Although the Public Interest Disclosure Act limits protection to employees, agency workers and self-employed workers, UCL's Policy additionally covers lay members of UCL's committees, UCL students and providers of services to UCL through a profession or business.
2.2. This Policy is designed to allow employees and such other persons as listed in 2.1 above to raise concerns or disclose information at a high level (and, if an employee wishes, independently of line management) which the discloser believes to show evidence of malpractice.
2.3. A number of policies are already in place at UCL to address issues of concern as listed in 1.6 above. The UCL Policy on Public Interest Disclosure covers concerns which are in the public interest and which may need to be addressed separately, at least initially, even if other UCL policies and procedures are subsequently invoked as provided for under 4.2(ii). Concerns within the workplace which might prompt disclosure could include the following:
- Financial malpractice, impropriety or fraud
- Activities which have or have the potential to involve bribery or corruption
- Failure to comply with a legal obligation
- Serious Failure to comply with UCL's Charter, Statutes, or Regulations for Management
- Endangering of health and safety or damage to the environment
- Criminal activity
- Academic or professional malpractice
- Miscarriage of justice
- Improper conduct or unethical behaviour
- Serious conflict of interest without disclosure
- Attempts to conceal any of the above
Protection is provided under the Policy provided that;
- the disclosure is being made in the public interest by a person who falls within the scope at 2.1, and
- the person making the disclosure is doing so in the reasonable belief that the information made available tends to show malpractice
UCL will treat all disclosures under this Policy in a confidential and sensitive manner. The identity of the individual making the allegation (i.e. the discloser) will be kept confidential insofar as this is compatible with making an effective investigation into the allegations which are the subject of the disclosure. The investigation process may however at some stage have to reveal the source of the information, and the individual making the disclosure may need to make a statement as part of the evidence required.
Whenever an allegation is made as part of this procedure against a named individual, that person will be told of the allegation and of the evidence supporting it, and will be allowed to respond before any investigation or further action is concluded. The point at which the individual is informed will depend on the nature of the case.
3.3. Anonymous Allegations
Individuals are encouraged to put their name to any disclosure they make since part of its purpose is to promote openness and discourage a fear of reprisals. Concerns expressed anonymously are much less powerful and far less capable of being addressed, but they will be considered at UCL's discretion. In exercising this discretion, UCL will take account of such matters as:
- The seriousness of the issues raised
- The credibility of the concern
- The likelihood of confirming the allegation from alternative credible and/or attributable sources
3.4. Untrue Allegations
If an individual makes an allegation in accordance with 3.1 above, which is not confirmed by subsequent investigation, no action will be taken against the individual. An individual making malicious or vexatious allegations may however face disciplinary action, particularly if he or she persists in making them when they have been declared after due process to be without foundation. A disclosure may be declared malicious or vexatious at any stage of the procedure.
4. Procedure for Making a Disclosure
4.1. Initial Step
The UCL Council has a statutory responsibility for the good governance of UCL and any disclosure should initially be made to the Chief Operating Officer (COO, email@example.com) who has been designated by the Council as the responsible Officer for considering such allegations. The COO will immediately inform the Provost and Chairman of Council unless requested not to do so by the discloser. If the disclosure contains allegations against the COO then the disclosure should be made to the Provost who will immediately inform the Chairman of Council.
The COO will consider the information made available by the discloser and will decide whether there are grounds for proceeding further with the case.
If the COO considers that there are no grounds for proceeding further, the discloser has the right to remake the case (see 4.4 below).
If the COO considers that there are grounds for proceeding further, the COO will decide:
(i) Whether an investigation should be conducted and, if so, who should undertake it and what form it should take; the appropriate body to conduct the investigation will depend on the nature of the matter raised and may be:
- An internal investigation (see 4.3 below)
- Referral to the police
- Calling for an independent inquiry
(ii) Whether the matter should be referred directly to an existing College procedure, as listed in 1.6 above.
Where the matter is the subject of an internal investigation, under 4.2(i), the COO may ask the Director of Internal Audit Services or another UCL Officer to undertake an initial investigation to establish all the relevant facts and to report their findings. As the COO is required to decide what action to take in the light of this report, the COO must not personally conduct the investigation and must remain separate from it. The initial investigation will be conducted speedily, ideally reporting within three weeks of receipt of the allegation.
On the basis of the findings of this initial investigation, the Vice-Provost will decide whether or not there is a case for taking the matter further and, if so, under what procedure.
If the COO considers that there is not a case for taking the matter further, the discloser has the right to remake the case (see 4.4 below).
If the COO considers that there is a case for taking the matter further, the COO will also decide the procedure for so doing. The internal UCL procedures are those listed under 1.6 above. If no suitable procedure is available, an ad hoc process may be needed. In some instances, it might be necessary for the matter to be referred to an external authority for further investigation.
In any investigation undertaken directly under this procedure the discloser and the person against whom the disclosure has been made will be entitled to be accompanied by a workplace colleague or Trade Union representative.
The COO will inform the discloser in writing of what action, if any, is to be taken. If the COO decides no action should be taken - either because they consider there is no prima facie case to be investigated, or after an internal investigation - the discloser will be informed of the reason and allowed a second and final opportunity to remake the disclosure to the Chairman of the Audit Committee. The Chairman of the Audit Committee will have absolute discretion to decide on an appropriate form of action based on the circumstances of the case so far.
4.5. Reporting of Outcomes
A record of all disclosures and of any subsequent action will be maintained by the COO for a period of three years. A report of the outcomes of any investigation will be made to the Audit Committee in detail where the issue falls within its purview, and in summary in other cases as a means of allowing the Committee to monitor the effectiveness of the procedure.
5. Review of the UCL Policy Procedure
Last reviewed by HR Policy and Planning in October 2013 in line with the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013. Minor updates: September 2020.