Whistleblowing is where a worker reports a wrongdoing in the public interest to their employer or a relevant organisation.
Whistleblowing (to a prescribed person) by members of the public
Last updated: 4 April 2023
- About this policy
- About whistleblowing and making protected disclosures
- Professional standard 6
- How to whistleblow to Social Work England
- Our process
- Further resources
- Roles and responsibilities
- Related policies, procedures and information sources
- Data protection, equality and diversity
About this policy
Who this policy is for
You should refer to this policy if (all of the following apply):
- you are a member of the public
- you wish to report a concern to Social Work England (this could be about individuals or organisations)
- you think the concern you have is related to Social Work England’s functions
This policy is also to be followed by all Social Work England employees who may receive disclosures or handle them.
Who is a member of the public?
In the context of this policy, members of the public are (any of the following):
- registered social workers
- other workers who have contact with social workers (for example, council staff)
Who this policy is not for
Social Work England staff who wish to whistleblow
This policy is not for employees of Social Work England. There is a separate policy and procedure for our employees to follow if they wish to raise whistleblowing concerns with us. If you are an employee of Social Work England and wish to raise a whistleblowing concern, speak to an appropriate manager.
People whistleblowing about concerns that only affect them
This policy is not for people who want to blow the whistle about something they have seen at work that only affects them. If you have a concern that only relates to you (for example, how you have been treated at work), you should raise this with your employer or blow the whistle to your employer.
About whistleblowing and making protected disclosures
What is whistleblowing?
Whistleblowing is the common term for making a protected disclosure. It covers situations where a worker reports wrongdoing in the public interest to their employer or a relevant organisation. This is commonly referred to as ‘blowing the whistle’ or ‘making a disclosure.’
Broadly, ‘in the public interest’ means the wrongdoing must affect other people. For example, the general public.
Examples of people who may blow the whistle include (any of the following):
- an employee
- a former employee
- a trainee
- an agency worker
Whistleblowing is governed by Part IVA of the Employment Rights Act 1996.
A worker can blow the whistle to their employer or to a prescribed person. Social Work England is a prescribed person.
Blowing the whistle to Social Work England
You may be able to contact us (as the prescribed person) under this policy if (any of the following apply):
- you have raised your concern with your employer, and you are not satisfied with the response
- you don’t feel able to raise a concern with your employer directly
- your concern is not a matter for your employer (for example, because the concern falls within our remit as a regulator and we have the power to investigate it.)
The role of a prescribed person is to provide workers with a way to make their public interest disclosure to an independent body. Workers should only do this where (both of the following apply):
- the worker does not feel able to directly disclose to their employer and
- the body may be in a position to take some form of further action on the disclosure
Under the Public Interest Disclosure (Prescribed Persons) Order 2014 (as amended), Social Work England is a prescribed person to which a worker may make a disclosure to report suspected or known wrongdoing.
Social Work England is a prescribed person for matters relating to (any of the following):
- a) the registration and fitness to practise of social workers in England; and
- b) any activities not covered by (a) in relation to which Social Work England has functions.
Blowing the whistle to other people and organisations
If your concern does not fall within a) or b) above, then there may be other organisations that could assist.
GOV.UK has a list of organisations where you can make a protected disclosure (opens in a new tab).
You can also blow the whistle to a third party such as a Government Minister or a member of the press. This is known as a ‘wider disclosure’.
In order for this type of disclosure to be protected, it must meet more stringent tests than a disclosure made to an employer or prescribed person. You may wish to seek your own advice if you want to blow the whistle to a third party.
What amounts to a protected disclosure?
The law on what amounts to a protected disclosure is complex. We cannot give advice on whether something you tell us would amount to a protected disclosure.
To be protected by whistleblowing law, the disclosure must be a ‘qualifying disclosure.’ This must meet all of the following criteria:
1. There must be a disclosure of information. Merely gathering evidence or threatening to make a disclosure is not sufficient.
2. The disclosure is made by someone who is a ‘worker’ . For example, someone who has a contract of employment, a contract to personally perform work for someone, an agency worker or someone on a work placement. It may also cover police officers and some self-employed health professionals.
3. The worker reasonably believes that the events have taken place in the past, are taking place now, or are likely to take place in the future. The events will tend to show one or more of the following:
- a criminal offence
- a 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 showing any of the above matters 
4. In the reasonable belief of the worker making the disclosure, the disclosure is made in the public interest. It should not be made in the interests of the person making the disclosure. 
5. The worker is not committing a criminal offence by providing the information to Social Work England . This could include situations where the information relates to Court proceedings and the Court has made a confidentiality order.
6. The person making the disclosure is not breaching legal professional privilege. For example, if the person making the disclosure was given the information in the course of obtaining legal advice, it would not be a qualifying disclosure.
In addition, a qualifying disclosure to a prescribed person will only be protected if the worker reasonably believes that both:
- the wrongdoing falls within the remit of the prescribed person in question
- the information disclosed and any allegation contained in it are substantially true
[note 1] Sections 43K and 230(3) of the Employment Rights Act 1996
[note 2] Section 43B of the Employment Rights Act 1996
[note 3] Section 43B(1) of the Employment Rights Act 1996
[note 4] Section 43B(3) of the Employment Rights Act 1996
Protection you receive if you make a protected disclosure
The Employment Rights Act 1996 protects workers from being subjected to a detriment by their employer as a result of making a protected disclosure . Broadly speaking, this means your employer cannot treat you negatively because you blew the whistle.
If you have any questions about whether you have suffered a detriment, we recommend that you seek your own legal advice.
Alternatively, you can speak to Protect (formerly known as Public Concern at Work). Protect is the UK’s whistleblowing charity.
Please note that Social Work England cannot give you advice on this matter.
[note 5] Section 47B Employment Rights Act 1996
Professional standard 6
Social workers have a professional responsibility to report wrongdoing.
Standard 6 of the professional standards for social workers states that social workers must challenge unethical practice and report concerns.
Professional standard 6 is as follows:
- 6.1: Report allegations of harm and challenge and report exploitation and any dangerous, abusive or discriminatory behaviour or practice.
- 6.2: Reflect on my working environment and where necessary challenge practices, systems and processes to uphold Social Work England’s professional standards.
- 6.3: Inform people of the right to complain and provide them with the support to do it, and record and act on concerns raised to me.
- 6.4: Take appropriate action when a professional’s practice may be impaired.
- 6.5: Raise concerns about organisational wrongdoing and cultures of inappropriate and unsafe practice.
- 6.6: Declare to the appropriate authority and Social Work England anything that might affect my ability to do my job competently or may affect my fitness to practise, or if I am subject to criminal proceedings or a regulatory finding is made against me, anywhere in the world.
- 6.7: Cooperate with any investigations by my employer, Social Work England, or another agency, into my fitness to practise or the fitness to practise of others.
How to whistleblow to Social Work England
You can whistleblow to Social Work England in any of the following ways:
- through our online concerns form or misuse of title form (if your concern is about a social worker)
- through our online raise a concern about a social work course form (if your concern relates to a course provider)
- by email: [email protected]
- by post: Social Work England, 1 North Bank, Blonk Street, Sheffield S3 8JY
- by telephone: 0808 196 2274 (if you are unable to complete any of the above, or if you need to call us as a reasonable adjustment for your needs)
What we will do about a protected disclosure
Being a prescribed person does not give us more powers to investigate your disclosure. We can only use the powers we have under the Social Workers Regulations 2018. For example:
- If the concern relates to an individual registrant, we will consider it as part of our fitness to practise process. If the concern falls outside of our remit, we may signpost you to other organisations that can assist.
- If the concern relates to someone claiming to be a social worker when they are not, we will consider it under our misuse of title policy.
- If the concern relates to a social work course provider, we will consider whether the course is meeting our education and training standards.
Once we have received your disclosure, we will consider whether we can investigate it under any of these options. We will tell you how we plan to take it forward.
We may also ask you (any of the following questions):
- has the concern been reported to your employer?
- have you raised this concern anywhere in writing?
- who else is aware of the concern, what are their details?
- what evidence may exist?
- who has access to the evidence?
In addition, we will decide whether we reasonably believe that what you have told us amounts to a protected disclosure. We will tell you if we think it does. If we decide to take the matter forward, we will deal with the disclosure in accordance with our regulatory functions.
Please note that only an employment tribunal can make a final decision on whether something is a protected disclosure. You will need to get your own advice from a lawyer or trade union on seeking an employment tribunal decision.
As a prescribed person, we also have an obligation to publish an annual report on the protected disclosures we receive . We may include the protected disclosure you have made to us in this report, but we will not include anything that may identify you.
[note 6] Prescribed Persons (Reports on Disclosures of Information) Regulations 2017
Raising concerns anonymously
We would prefer that you raise concerns with us openly and in your own name. This assists with the investigation process.
However, we understand that sometimes it can be difficult to speak out. You may not want to provide any further information than your report of the concern, or you may wish for your identity to remain anonymous.
If you decide to raise a concern with us and do not wish for your identity to be revealed to others, we will not disclose your identity without your consent to do so. This is unless there are legal reasons that mean we must share your identity. In the event that we do have to share your identity, we will inform you of this. Please be assured that all your details will be used and stored in accordance with our data protection policies and our legal obligations. You can find further information in our privacy notice.
If you choose to remain anonymous, it may make any investigation we carry out more difficult. For example, we may not be able to (do any of the following):
- contact you to clarify the information you have provided
- seek further information or evidence
- take a witness statement
- provide our decision makers with the best evidence to take the appropriate action
Sometimes, your decision to remain anonymous may mean it is not possible to investigate further, for example, where we do not have enough information from you.
You should also understand that even if you raise your concerns with us anonymously, it may be obvious who has reported it.
In serious cases, it may not be possible to protect your identity where the public interest requires an investigation.
- GOV.UK information on whistleblowing (opens in a new tab)
- Protect (opens in a new tab). This is an organisation which provides free, confidential whistleblowing advice. You can also telephone them on 020 3117 2520.
- Citizens Advice (opens in a new tab)
If you are a member of a trade union or a professional association, you can contact them for advice and support.
If this policy isn’t followed, the most appropriate course of action will be agreed between the policy owner and the head of legal. This will be dependent on the circumstances.
Roles and responsibilities
Internal quality and improvement team
The internal quality and improvement team will have overall ownership of the process.
Triage, education quality assurance, registration enquiries team
These teams will be involved in capturing the disclosures and submitting the information to the internal quality and improvement team.
The legal team will give legal advice to the heads of functions.
Heads of functions
The heads of functions will decide whether the disclosure is a qualifying disclosure. In their absence, decisions will be made by an assistant director or executive director where appropriate.
Related policies, procedures and information sources
Data protection, equality and diversity
We undertook (both of the following):
- a data protection impact assessment (DPIA)
- an equality impact assessment (EIA)
If you have a query about this policy, please contact Rosie Hancock, Head of Legal (senior lawyer).
This is a disclosure which is made by an employee or worker and fulfils certain requirements under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998.
The Public Interest Disclosure (Prescribed Persons) Order 2014 (SI 2014/2418) lists the prescribed persons in England, Scotland and Wales and the relevant matters for which each is prescribed. Social Work England became a prescribed person on 15 December 2022.
This is another name for making a protected disclosure. It is often used more broadly for sharing information that would not qualify for protection under the Employment Rights Act 1996.
Last reviewed: December 2022
Next review: December 2023
Policy owner: Philip Hallam, Executive Director - Regulation