What is whistleblowing

People who work for or have dealings with the bodies that we audit, or other public sector bodies, are often the first ones to know if suspected or actual wrongdoing has occurred, is occurring or is likely to occur.

Whistleblowing occurs when someone raises a concern that impacts on other people, for example; the organisation they work for, other staff, their clients, the wider public or the environment.

If the concern is about themselves or the way in which they have been treated it is more likely that the concern should be dealt with through the organisation’s complaints or grievance process.

When concerns are raised by an employee about specified issues and with a prescribed person, they may be legally protected under the Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA) against detriment or dismissal by their employer – this is known as a ‘qualifying disclosure’. The Comptroller & Auditor General is a prescribed person for “the proper conduct of public business, value for money, fraud and corruption in relation to the provision of public services”.

The NAO follows the same process for all whistleblowing disclosures, whether they may be a qualifying disclosure or not.

The Comptroller & Auditor General as a prescribed person

A prescribed person is someone a worker may approach outside their workplace to report suspected or actual wrongdoing. 

The Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA) prescribes the Comptroller & Auditor General (C&AG) as someone to whom people can make a protected disclosure about “the proper conduct of public business, value for money, fraud and corruption in relation to the provision of public services”.

The C&AG leads the National Audit Office (NAO) and is an officer of the House of Commons. He and the staff of the NAO are independent of government. They are not civil servants and do not report to a minister.

The C&AG role is to certify the accounts of all government departments and many other public sector bodies. He has statutory authority to examine and report to Parliament on whether departments and the bodies they fund have used their resources efficiently, effectively and with economy.

The PIDA does not give the C&AG any additional powers nor does it require the C&AG to investigate every disclosure he receives; the decision whether to investigate is based on the matters raised and the C&AG’s remit and powers.

How we will consider your disclosure (pdf flowchart)

The Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA)

The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 (PIDA) was introduced to protect workers who wish to report a wrongdoing at work. If a worker raises a concern in the public interest that they reasonably believe fits into the categories of information set out in PIDA as a relevant failure, and they raise that concern with the appropriate person, for example their employer or a prescribed person, then raising that concern may be a qualifying disclosure.

If a worker makes a valid protected disclosure, they have a legal right not to suffer detriment nor to be dismissed due to raising the concern. If they are discriminated against or victimised in any way because of the disclosure, they can take an employer to an employment tribunal.

The NAO cannot give an opinion as to whether a disclosure will be protected under PIDA, this would be decided by an employment tribunal.

Concerns about an individual local authority or council

We are often asked to investigate concerns at local authorities however, the C&AG’s powers are limited by the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014. Under this Act he cannot investigate individual local authorities. In these cases, we would usually refer the correspondent to the local authority’s external auditor, who is the prescribed person for local authorities. However, we are interested in individual cases as the information and insight could trigger a wider examination across a group of authorities.

You  can find out who a local authority’s local external auditor is for most local authorities by looking on the PSAA website. If the entry says the local authority has not ‘opted in’ then you will need to refer to the individual local authority.

To make a disclosure to the C&AG

Telephone the NAO on: 020 7798 7999

Or write to:

The Comptroller and Auditor General
National Audit Office
157-197 Buckingham Palace Road
London SW1W 9SP

Or contact us using our contact form.

Annual reports on whistleblowing