Unveiling the Challenges and Realities of Whistleblowing in the UK Workplace

Recent whistleblowing statistics reveal that over a fifth of UK workers hesitate to report environmental issues at work due to fear of reprisals, according to research by Protect. Tribunal data from September further indicates that merely 3% of whistleblowing claims are successful at the hearing stage. Sarah Begley delves into the details, uncovering barriers to success in these cases.

The study uncovers significant barriers in whistleblowing cases: proof concerns (22%) and doubts about proper resolution (20%). Shockingly, only 36% feel safe raising environmental concerns under whistleblowing law. Of those reporting issues in the last two years, 33% had concerns ignored, and 74% faced negative repercussions.

The latest Tribunal statistics, available at https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/tribunals-statistics, cover data up to June 2023, with the most recent comparison of different claim types for the 2020-21 year.

Tribunal statistics for 2020-21 reveal that only 3% of the 1961 whistleblowing claims (understood to include detriment as well as dismissal claims) are classified as ‘successful at hearing’. The total breakdown of whistleblowing claims are as follows:

  • Successful at hearing: 3%
  • Where default judgment issued in claimant’s favour: 1%
  • Conciliated by ACAS: 33%
  • Withdrawn (including settlement other than by ACAS): 28%
  • Unsuccessful at hearing: 10%
  • Dismissed at a preliminary hearing: 2%
  • Struck out: 10%
  • Dismissed under rule 27: 1%
  • Dismissed following withdrawal: 11%
  • Discontinued in some other way: 1%.

Approximately two-thirds of claims settle through various means, with a quarter of claims not settling reaching trial. Comparatively, whistleblowing claims have a lower success rate (3%) and higher unsuccessful rate (10%).

In simpler terms, the data suggests that around one-third of all claims are resolved through ACAS, approximately two-thirds are settled through various means (presumably encompassing a considerable proportion of withdrawals due to settlement), and of the claims that proceed to trial without settlement, approximately one-fourth achieve success.

Whistleblowing claims, with a 3% success rate at hearings, align with the lowest, alongside disability and race discrimination claims, surpassing only age discrimination and ‘other’ at 2%. In unsuccessful hearings, whistleblowing at 10% ranks among the highest, trailing behind only race and religion and belief discrimination claims at 12%. Notably, the settlement rate for whistleblowing claims is 61%, surpassing the overall rate of 47% when considering ACAS settlements and withdrawals.

Sarah comments,

“The statistics certainly make for interesting findings. Undoubtedly, a significant number of all claims eventually settle without reaching the door of the Tribunal. Often the merit of the case forces the outcome but, in my experience, the commercial reality plays a huge part. I work with small/medium businesses for whom the costs and time of defending these claims in a jurisdiction where costs recovery is unlikely has to be addressed at an early juncture.

Of course, reputation plays a part and the desire to keep whistleblowing disputes out of the public eye but given that they are also amongst the lengthier and more complex type of claims, undoubtedly expensive legal costs and the commercial reality has to be at the forefront of the decision maker’s minds when contemplating doing a deal.

The fact that so few cases actually succeed of the ones that do go to trial could simply be down to the complexities of the legal hurdles which must be overcome to prove one’s claim or it could be due to the number of claims being pursued without good prospects of success (but not ‘little’ or ‘no’ prospects hence seemingly no financial penalty for seeing a case all the way to its conclusion).”

Sarah concludes,

“It will be interesting to see what (if any) changes are proposed in the government review of existing UK whistleblowing legislation which is due to be published this Autumn.  It is considered by many to be long overdue, with wide recognition that Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 (“PIDA”) to no longer be fit for purpose”.

For further help and advice, please contact Sarah Begley, Solicitor at Wilkes on 0121 733 8000 or via email at [email protected]. You can also contact any other member of the Employment Team on 0121 233 4333 or at [email protected].

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