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Whistleblowing procedures ‘more sophisticated’ but out-of-date according to new research report

Over two-thirds of UK universities’ whistleblowing procedures are out-of-date following changes to legislation in 2013, according to a new report published by Arron Phillips and leading UK whistleblowing expert Professor David Lewis.

The report, which looked at a number of aspects of whistleblowing policies and procedures at 143 UK universities, found that 69% of them pre-date the amendments made to the Employment Rights Act 1996 in April 2013. One key change was the introduction of a 'public interest test' but the majority of universities do not currently require this to be satisfied.

David Lewis, Professor of Employment Law at Middlesex University, said: "Monitoring and review are imperative if universities are to keep pace with the evolving law and practice of whistleblowing. Regular review should not be too demanding and should be seen as an aspect of good governance."

However, the report also noted that university whistleblowing procedures 'have become more sophisticated since 2000' – when Professor Lewis' last study of this sector was conducted - and that there 'appears to be clearer recognition of the need to appoint people who are appropriate to deal with the particular concerns raised'.

In addition, the researchers were impressed that every university permitting anonymous reporting (67%) stated that it would consider reports on a discretionary basis rather than ignoring them completely.

"This is important because a blanket policy of ignoring anonymous whistleblowing could lead to dangerous or damaging situations being ignored. Similarly, in pointing out that confidentiality cannot be guaranteed in all circumstances, we believe that universities have taken a helpful and realistic approach to this issue," Professor Lewis said.

There was also an increased willingness to allow non-employees to raise concerns. 

Professor Lewis said: "Universities have come to appreciate that they have an interest in learning about alleged wrongdoing from any source. Whether you are FTSE 100 or an SME, private or public, whistleblowing policies and procedures which are effective, clear and accessible at all times are essential. If these do not exist or are hidden from view people will have no confidence that they can report their concerns.

"Policies and procedures should be carefully worded as they can have important practical and legal implications. They should make it clear there is an expectation that concerns about wrongdoing are raised internally and guarantee that those who make a report will be protected against retaliation."

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