Whistleblowing

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Whistleblowing is when a worker raises concerns about improper practices in their workplace.

Our whistleblowing procedure is for employees of, or contractors in, the water and sewerage sector who decide to report concerns relating to their employer in relation to matters that Ofwat has powers to take further action on.

If you are a customer with a concern, you should ordinarily contact your water company in the first instance. If you have followed the company’s complaints procedure and you are still not happy, you can ask the Consumer Council for Water (CCW) to investigate, they are the consumer body for the water sector.

Whistleblowing by workers can inform those who need to know about health and safety risks, potential environmental problems, fraud, corruption, cover-ups, and many other problems. It is sometimes the only way that such information comes to light. If the concern is raised early enough it can help to avoid serious damage being done.

Ofwat is one of the regulators of the water and sewerage industry in England and Wales, and expects openness, accountability, and honesty from companies operating in the sector. Employees of water and sewerage companies sometimes contact us with concerns about working practices within their company. We take all such contacts very seriously and aim to deal with them promptly and sensitively.

We recognise that raising such concerns is not always easy for an individual. This page sets out how we aim to deal with concerns raised with us by whistleblowers.

This is not a complete summary of the law in this area, but a practical guide about how a whistleblower can come forward and what we do with the information they provide.

What concerns does Ofwat deal with?

The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 (PIDA) gives Ofwat responsibility for whistleblowing in relation to matters relating to the supply of water and the provision of sewerage services in England and Wales. PIDA was created specifically to protect employees who report serious concerns to the proper authorities.

If you are an employee with information or concerns about potential, previous, or current incidents of improper practice in your company you can contact us. We will treat any information sensitively and, as far as we are able, confidentially.

You should be aware that we may not be able to take action against a company in all instances. For example, the sorts of areas where employees may have concerns they wish to raise with us could include, but not be limited to, where they have information that shows there may have been:

  • A breach of the conditions of a company’s Licence or Appointment (for example, failing to provide information requested by Ofwat or breaching restrictions relating to trading with an associated business).
  • A breach of a company’s duties under the Water Industry Act 1991 (for example where the standards of customer service set out by the Guaranteed Standards of Service (GSS) scheme have not been met).
  • a criminal offence (for example, making a statement that is known to be false when providing regulatory information to Ofwat).
  • anti-competitive practices.

What will happen to me if I come forward?

Many employees are understandably concerned about the consequences of speaking out about their employer. PIDA was created specifically to protect employees who report serious concerns to the proper authorities. If you are concerned about possible wrongdoing at work, PIDA may protect you if you raise your concerns with the relevant authorities either within your company or externally.

PIDA amends the Employment Rights Act 1996 and gives workers protection from mistreatment (such as unfair discrimination or dismissal) by their employer. To make a protected disclosure the whistleblower must believe that they are acting in the public interest, that the information they disclose is either happening now, took place in the past, or is likely to happen in the future, and the information they disclose is believed to show one or more of the following matters:

  • a criminal offence.
  • the breach of a legal obligation.
  • a miscarriage of justice (for which the proper authority is the Chief Executive of the Criminal Cases Review Commission).
  • a danger to the health and safety of any individual (for which the proper authority is the Health and Safety Executive).
  • damage to the environment.
  • deliberate covering up of information tending to show any of the above.

Any worker who approaches their employer in the belief that it is in the public interest to raise, with information on these matters, qualifies for PIDA protection. PIDA also establishes a number of prescribed bodies, such as Ofwat, as alternative contacts; workers who approach the prescribed body that they believe is responsible, with information they believe to be substantially true, also qualify for PIDA protection.

In raising a concern, you do not need to be certain that improper practice is occurring. PIDA protection applies if, at the time you raised your concern, you had a reasonable belief that improper practice was, was going to, or had been occurring, even if that belief does not turn out to be correct.

I’m not sure if my concern qualifies. What should I do?

Ofwat cannot provide legal advice or intervene in matters of employment relations and has no powers to determine whether or not PIDA protection applies. If you require confidential advice on what is protected by PIDA and how best to raise your concern, you may want to contact:

  • Protect – they are an independent charity and a leading authority on public interest whistleblowing. They can be contacted on 020 3117 2520, or by email at [email protected].
  • a union representative.
  • a solicitor.

How do I contact Ofwat with my concerns?

We would 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), you can contact us by using our online form, via our email ([email protected]), by telephone on 0121 644 7500 or in writing at:

Ofwat
Centre City Tower
7 Hill Street
Birmingham
B5 4UA

What information do you need?

When raising a concern with us we ask that you provide us with as much detail as possible including details of what you think the improper practice is and why, details of any relevant events or individuals, and what you think the improper practice could be affecting. It is not essential that you provide hard evidence of this, but where you have this, it clearly helps us to understand the concern and its validity, so we can consider whether we need to take action in relation to the concern.

Will I have to give my name?

We do not insist that you give us your name when raising a whistleblower concern with us. But if you are comfortable to provide us with your name and contact details it is helpful if we find we need to get in touch with you to further help our understanding of the concern. We will treat all disclosures in a sensitive manner. We will endeavour to keep your identity confidential for as long as you wish or until such time as there is an overriding reason why your identity should be disclosed. However, you should be aware that sometimes, during the course of our investigations, the company about which you are raising concerns may be able to guess the identity of the person who made the initial disclosure.

How will we use the information provided?

We will use and share the information you have provided in line with our privacy policy. For example, your information may be used to carry out an investigation or enforcement activity where a company is potentially in breach of their licence. We may share the information you have provided with another public body, for example where another regulator is better equipped to deal with the issues raised, when there is legal obligation for us to do so or, exceptionally, to protect individuals from harm or injury.

All information provided to us will only be retained in accordance with our retention and disposal policy.

What happens next?

We recognise that, due to the differing circumstances of each matter raised with us, it may not always be possible or appropriate to follow the same procedure in every instance. However, we would expect to follow the steps set out below when we receive information from a whistleblower.

  • After receiving a communication from a whistleblower, Ofwat will endeavour to obtain as much detail as possible about the allegation of improper practice, as soon as possible. Where appropriate, this could involve further communication with the whistleblower, either by email, telephone or at a face-to-face meeting.
  • Ofwat will consider whether it is the appropriate regulator, or whether there may be another prescribed body which may have an interest in the information or be better placed to take action in response to it. If the concern is primarily within the remit of another authority, we will aim to provide the whistleblower with their contact details.
  • When sufficient information has been gathered, Ofwat will consider whether the company complained of is breaching their legal obligations and if there is further action for Ofwat to take on the matter. This may include us requesting information from the relevant company about the matter of concern or carrying out enforcement action to bring the company back into compliance. If no further action is to be taken, the whistleblower will be informed where possible.

We appreciate that you will be anxious to know what has happened, and we will endeavour to keep you informed, in general terms, of any progress. However, we will not disclose confidential information without lawful authority, and legal restrictions may prevent us giving detailed feedback on the action we are taking.

We review our approach regularly to ensure that it meets the needs of both employees raising concerns with us, and Ofwat fulfilling its functions.