This is the latest version of the Department for the Economy's Raising Concerns guidance last updated in March 2023.
Raising a concern relates to anyone, internal to or outside the department, notifying the department about danger, wrongdoing or illegality that affects others (eg taxpayers, customers, members of the public, or their employer).
The Department for the Economy (DfE) is committed to the highest possible standards of openness and accountability in the delivery of its services. This guidance underpins the Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS) Raising Concerns Framework and its purpose is to:
- reassure staff in the department or one of its partner organisations that they can raise genuine concerns about potential wrongdoing in confidence, through a clear internal reporting process, without putting their position at risk
- provide arrangements through which anyone who is not a member of staff can raise concerns about the proper conduct of public business by the department or its partner organisations.
In order to instil a culture in which staff and members of the public have the confidence to raise concerns openly, where all concerns are listened to and taken seriously and where those who speak up are supported, the Director of Corporate Governance has been appointed as the department’s Speak-Up Champion, overseeing a dedicated Fraud & Raising Concerns Branch (FRCB).
A full list of the department’s partner organisations can be found on our website at About DfE.
Types of concern covered
This guidance relates to concerns about suspected malpractice, risk, abuse or wrongdoing within the department or its partner organisations. Types of concerns could include, but are not restricted to:
- the abuse of children and /or vulnerable adults (physical or psychological)
- health and safety risks, either to the public or other employees;
- any unlawful act (eg theft)
- the unauthorised use of public funds (e.g. expenditure for improper purpose)
- a breach of the Employee Code of Conduct
- maladministration (e.g. not adhering to procedures, negligence)
- failing to safeguard personal and/or sensitive information (data protection)
- damage to the environment (eg pollution)
- fraud and corruption (eg to give or receive any gift/reward as a bribe);
- abuse of power
- poor value for money
- other unethical conduct
- any deliberate concealment of information tending to show any of the above
Personal grievances or dissatisfaction in respect of employment issues are not considered as a raising concern, unless a member of staff’s particular case is in the public interest. Issues which affect staff personally, such as a breach of their individual employment rights or bullying, will be dealt with under the appropriate NICS HR Policy eg Dignity at Work or the Grievance Procedure.
Raising a concern is very different from a complaint. When someone complains, they are saying that they have personally been poorly treated, for example, through receiving an unsatisfactory level of service from the department or a Partner Organisation, and the complainant is seeking redress or justice for themselves. The relevant guidance is the DfE Complaints Procedure. The department’s partner organisations have their own Complaints Procedures which must be used in respect of their performance or service standards.
Confidentiality and anonymity
You may wish to raise your concern openly, but you can choose to raise it confidentially. This means that, while you are willing for your identity to be known to the person you report your concern to, you do not want your identity disclosed to anyone else. We will maintain your confidentiality insofar as possible, but there may be circumstances where we are required to disclose it (eg by a court or tribunal). If such a situation arises, this will be discussed with you. If you wish to raise concerns confidentially, either from the outset or at any stage during the process, we will do all we can to ensure that is possible.
You can choose to raise your concern anonymously. While concerns raised anonymously will be dealt with in the same manner as all others, detailed investigations may be more difficult, or even impossible, if you cannot be contacted for further information. There is also a chance that any documents or information you provide might, unknown to us, reveal your identity, making it more difficult to protect your position.
All information is treated confidentially and held securely in line with the requirements of the General Data Protection Regulations. Access to information and documentation relating to your concern will be restricted in order to protect the identity of all those involved, including those against whom allegations are made.
Advice and guidance
The DfE Speak-Up Champion is a source of advice and support for both staff in the department those outside the department. In addition, they have an understanding of the importance to the department of receiving and handling concerns from all sources, including external sources, and ensuring they are dealt with effectively.
DfE has a dedicated Fraud and Raising Concerns Branch (FRCB), responsible for the management recording, monitoring and oversight of all raising concerns cases received in the department and its partner organisations as well as the provision of advice, information and guidance to both staff and those external to the department.
The DfE Speak-Up Champion and FRCB can be contacted as follows:
39-49 Adelaide Street,
Confidential email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Speak-Up Champion phone number: 028 9052 9503
24-hour phoneline with messaging facility: 028 9025 7422
More advice and guidance on raising a concern is available on the Protect website. Protect is an independent charity that can provide impartial expert advice. They can be contacted by telephone on 020 3117 2520 or by using their online webform.
The Northern Ireland Audit Office has produced “Raising Concerns: A Good Practice Guide for the Northern Ireland Public Sector” which includes information for the general public on how they can raise concerns and how these should be treated by organisations.
How to raise a concern: members of departmental staff
If you are a member of DfE staff and you have a concern, you can refer to The Public Interest Disclosure (NI) Order 1998 and the NICS Raising Concerns Framework which provide information to workers who want to raise concerns.
Staff should usually raise concerns with their line manager or someone else within the line management chain that they feel comfortable talking to. If this would be difficult for any reason, you can raise the matter with the DfE Speak-Up Champion or FRCB using the contact details above.
If necessary, concerns can be raised with either the DfE Permanent Secretary at Permanent.SecretarySupport@economy-ni.gov.uk or the Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO) at email@example.com.
All concerns received will be handled in accordance with the DfE Raising Concerns Response Plan.
As the department is committed to making it easy to raise a concern which is in the public interest, individual staff who raise a genuine concern under this guidance will not be at risk of losing their job/position or suffer any form of detriment as a result, except where the individual has been complicit in the commission of the offence.
A member of staff who believes that they have suffered a detriment as a result of raising a concern can make an internal complaint in accordance with NICS procedures, eg Dignity at Work. Alternatively, an external complaint may be made to an Industrial Tribunal.
How to raise a concern: staff members in partner organisations
If you are a member of staff in one of the department’s partner organisations, refer to the Raising Concerns or Whistleblowing Policy for your organisation and follow the guidance therein.
If you feel unable to raise a concern in line with your organisation’s policy, for example, if the issue involves senior management, you can raise the matter with the DfE Speak-Up Champion or FRCB using the contact details above.
Please be aware that, while the department will do everything possible to maintain confidentiality, it may become necessary to involve members of your organisation in order to have a matter fully investigated and resolved. If such contact becomes necessary, you will be advised.
Concerns raised will be treated in the strictest confidence.
How to raise a concern: non-staff members
Anyone external to the department or its partner organisations can raise a concern with the DfE Speak-Up Champion or FRCB using the contact details above.
Concerns raised will be treated in the strictest confidence.
Handling concerns raised
Once you have told us of your concern, we will assess what action needs to be taken and ensure it is handled appropriately.
If, after initial assessment by the Speak-Up Champion and FRCB, it is deemed that your concern falls more properly within the staff Grievance Policy (or other HR Policy), the Complaints Procedure, or that it would be best investigated by another body, for example, one of the department’s partner organisations or another department, we will tell you.
If your concern is about possible fraud, the department will deal with it by following our Fraud Policy.
Be assured that all concerns raised will be taken seriously and investigated appropriately. All enquiries will be undertaken in a proportionate and appropriate manner.
Communication with the person who raised the concern
It is important that the department has as much information as possible in order to undertake enquiries. If you have raised your concern anonymously, please be aware that this will prevent the department from contacting you, which may restrict our ability to fully investigate concerns or provide you with feedback.
If you have not raised your concern anonymously, the department may contact you a number of times during any investigation.
Receipt of your concern will be acknowledged by a representative of the department within 10 working days of receipt.
All enquiries should be made to FRCB who can be contacted using the details above. Depending on the requirements of individual enquiries, you may be provided with an additional contact point for the investigation.
You may be offered the opportunity to meet with a representative of the department and advised whether your further participation may be needed during any investigation.
If it is necessary to alert other authorities to the case, for example, the Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO) or the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), we will let you know.
Where concerns raised lead to criminal proceedings, you may be required to give evidence in a court of law.
You will be told when the departmental enquiries are concluded. Insofar as the department is able, you may be updated on the outcome of the concern raised but please be aware that we may not be able to provide you with detailed feedback where this would infringe a duty of confidence owed by us to someone else.
If, as a member of staff, specifically where your concerns pertain to a potential breach of the NICS Code of Ethics, you are not satisfied with the outcome of the investigation, you can report this to the Civil Service Commissioners for Northern Ireland. This must be done within one month of the date of the final written notification of the investigation outcome:
Civil Service Commissioners for Northern Ireland7th Floor
20-32 Chichester Street
Tel: 028 9052 3577
If, as a non-staff member, you are not satisfied with the process by which your concerns have been dealt with, you can raise the matter, in the first instance, under the DfE Complaints Procedure. Once the internal process has been exhausted, if you are still not satisfied, the matter may then be raised with the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman (NIPSO) or the NIAO.
Raising a concern externally
If you feel unable to raise a concern internally, or have done so but feel that the matter has not been adequately addressed, you have several options for raising it externally.
If you are a member of NICS staff, you can raise your concern with an external person or bodies, known as ‘Prescribed Persons’. To raise a concern to a prescribed person you must:
- reasonably believe that the information you provide, and any allegation contained in it, is substantially true;
- not act for personal gain; and
- act reasonably, taking into account the circumstances.
A full list of the prescribed bodies / persons to which staff may report a serious concern, with protection afforded by the Public Interest Disclosure Order, can be accessed via the Legislation UK website.
Anyone, staff or non-staff members can raise their concerns with the Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO) at firstname.lastname@example.org
The departmental Raising Concerns guidance will be reviewed at least every two years.