Anyone who read the recent article in Inside Housing on the secret life of a fire risk assessor will have been horrified at the litany of breaches and the potential cost to life these could have caused.
The whistleblower spoke about inadequate staff for evacuation procedures, fire safety doors failing to shut, locked doors to say nothing of the pressure put to bear on assessors to downgrade high risks to paint a better picture for board reports.
Without a doubt, these issues need to be raised; vulnerable lives were, in many of these scenarios, at risk. That said, surely there must be a better and more effective way of addressing these concerns than through the national press? More needs to be done so that this is not the only option left available to those seeking to shed light on these practices. There needs to be a greater culture of transparency and accountability throughout organisations so concerns can be raised without fear of reprisal.
What steps can be taken to either strengthen that culture or start to build it?
- Ensure you have a clear and accessible whistleblowing policy in place; one which clearly sets out how to raise a concern, who to raise it with and the employment protection they will benefit from. Then ensure that policy is followed, staff are trained on it and understand its importance for the culture of the organisation. This is not just good practice but is also a requirement under the NHF Code of Governance 2020. Organisations that don’t have one are in breach of the NHF Code and with it the Governance and Financial Viability Standard. We have a template available (Whistleblowing Policy) that complies with the NHF Code and reflects housing sector best practice – please contact us if you’d be interested.
- Act promptly and with a willingness to engage when you receive any form of disclosure. The two common mistakes are 1) failing to take issues seriously for whatever reason – may be because the complainer is a serial complainer; or 2) failing to seek advice quick enough. With the latter, seeking specific legal advice at the outset can save lengthy and very costly processes in the long run and may save you appearing on the cover of Inside Housing or the subject of an ITV documentary. With seemingly vexatious complaints, be wary of writing these off too quickly – is there any substance, why do they keep complaining, what are the other issues at play?
- Recognising this is a multi-faceted issue; whistleblowing is an employment issue, a Regulator issue, a regulatory issue and, as we have seen from the Inside Housing article, a matter of reputational damage. It is not something that can be taken lightly and only be seen from an employment perspective. Again, seeking early advice is always the wisest option in the long run. Do use our multi-disciplined team here at Anthony Collins Solicitors. We recently ran an event addressing some of these issues in more detail. If you would like training for your organisation that addresses the different aspects of whistleblowing, is practical and sector-specific please do contact us.
Governance team – advice on governance and regulator requirements
Have matters improved since Grenfell demonstrated the consequences of sidelining fire safety? “If anything, it’s become even more of a fear culture,” he says. “People are so reluctant to hear that things might not be right.”