Procedure for making a disclosure to Ofcom under the Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA)

26 June 2010

The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 ('PIDA'/'Act') came into effect on 1 January 1999. The Act gives legal protection to employees against being dismissed or penalised by their employers as a result of disclosing information which is considered to be in the public interest. The principle of the Act is that where an individual discovers information which he or she believes to show malpractice or wrongdoing within their organisation that this information should be disclosed without fear of reprisal. This should be facilitated by a process which ensures that the person making the disclosure is afforded proper protection and that the information is acted upon quickly. The Act offers a right to redress in the event of victimisation if individuals raise concerns in the ways specified by the legislation.

Ofcom has a policy in place for its own employees and is obliged (it is a 'prescribed person') under the Act to put in place a procedure under which individuals working outside Ofcom but in the communications sector may contact Ofcom if they have concerns about possible wrongdoing at their own organisation and where they have been unable to raise or resolve those concerns internally. Ofcom is a Prescribed Person under the Act to which external disclosures can be made on matters relating to:

"(a) the provision of electronic communications networks and services and the use of the electro-magnetic spectrum; (b) broadcasting and the provision of television and radio services; (c) media ownership and control; and (d) competition in communications markets."

Ofcom is committed to good governance and has attempted, through this procedure, to create an environment in which all individuals working for organisations in the communications sector have an ability to contact Ofcom for the purpose of making a disclosure under the PIDA. Ofcom recognises that employees are often the first to realise that there may be something wrong within their organisation and therefore encourages all individuals to raise genuine concerns about malpractice (unprofessional or illegal behaviour) at the earliest practicable stage rather than wait for proof. This is known as 'whistleblowing'.

Individuals with concerns are encouraged to make a disclosure (blow the whistle) within their organisation in the first instance. Ofcom is an alternative route for individuals, who have raised a concern to their organisation and are concerned by the response, or lack of response, from their organisation or for those who feel unable to talk to anyone at their organisation for whatever reason. Individuals finding themselves in this situation should follow the Ofcom procedure below to make a disclosure to Ofcom. This procedure is not to be used by individuals seeking to make a grievance about their personal employment situation. Ofcom is particularly interested in live concerns or matters of recent history rather than past issues.

Any information received by Ofcom will be treated sensitively and Ofcom will investigate matters raised under this procedure in a responsible manner. The Act does not require Ofcom to investigate every disclosure received. The decision whether or not to investigate is based upon various criteria designed to ensure the most effective use of the resources at Ofcom's disposal in safeguarding the public interest. In addition the Act does not require Ofcom to consider or judge whether a disclosure qualifies for the protection of the Act. Ofcom's role is to consider the matters disclosed to it.

The PIDA provides an essential framework protecting individuals who blow the whistle responsibly. If you require further information on the Act please refer to the Department of Trade and Industry's Guide to the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998. This is available at their website: www.dti.gov.uk/er/individual/pidguide-pl502.htm

If you want free, confidential advice on what is protected by PIDA and how best to raise your concern, you can contact for example, the independent charity, Public Concern at Work on 020 7404 6609 www.pcaw.co.uk or, in Scotland, 0141 5507572 www.scotland@pcaw.co.uk

Qualifying disclosures

Individuals can make what is known as a qualifying disclosure to Ofcom. The Act defines a "qualifying disclosure" as a disclosure, made in good faith, of information which, in the reasonable belief of the individual making the disclosure, tends to show one or more of the following has been committed, is being committed or is likely to be committed:

  • 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; or
  • deliberate covering up of information tending to show any of the above five matters.

Ofcom has been prescribed by the Secretary of State for the purpose of receiving disclosures about matters relating to:

"(a) the provision of electronic communications networks and services and the use of the electro-magnetic spectrum; (b) broadcasting and the provision of television and radio services; (c) media ownership and control; and (d) competition in communications markets."

Ofcom has statutory functions in relation to the communications sector and can provide authoritative advice and guidance to individuals about matters properly disclosed to it. Therefore individuals wishing to make a disclosure to Ofcom, as a prescribed person, should work in the communications sector and wish to make a related disclosure. However, it is up to an employment tribunal to decide after the event whether or not a disclosure was protected under the Act. Ofcom does not have any powers to determine whether a disclosure is protected, or to intervene in employments relations and Ofcom cannot provide legal advice.

Making a disclosure to Ofcom

The individual making a disclosure should disclose in confidence the grounds for belief in malpractice to the Secretary to the Corporation who has been designated by Ofcom as having appropriate experience and standing to handle such disclosures. In this procedure the above-named person is described as the "Designated Officer".

If you wish to make a disclosure to Ofcom you should telephone the Designated Officer on 020 7981 3601, e-mail at corporationsecretary@ofcom.org.uk or alternatively you can write to:

Secretary to the Corporation
Ofcom
Riverside House
2a Southwark Bridge Road
London SE1 9HA

When contacting Ofcom to make a disclosure under the PIDA, you should try and provide as much supporting information as possible. Hard evidence, if available, would be very helpful. However, the PIDA does not require you to have evidence before making a disclosure, but does say you must reasonably believe the information and any allegations in it are substantially true. You must also disclose any personal interests you have in relation to the disclosure when contacting Ofcom.