Whistleblowing: the cost of blurring the lines between knowing and doing


David Owen, former head of the national insurance policy at The Treasury, was awarded £142,000 after the Treasury declined to reemploy him, refusing to carry out a previous tribunal’s ruling that he should be found another job.

Mr Owen was dismissed after making public his concerns that staff were attempting to suffocate a proposal by Treasury minister, David Gauke, claiming that colleagues were deliberately placing excessive emphasis on the risks associated with the policy, which eventually caused it to be dropped.

The tribunal had stated that David Owen’s dismissal was ‘seriously flawed in a number of important respects’ and ordered that Mr Owen be reengaged at the Treasury. Unbeknownst to those outside of their Treasury, the tribunal order was ignored and the reasons why were never made clear.

This ruling is important for the following reasons:

  • It has highlighted the potential scale of penalties facing organisations who don’t comply with the protected disclosure (whistleblowing) regulation. The Treasury were ordered to pay close to a 100% increase on the previous cap of £76,574.
  • It has exposed the contradictions within the government, between advocating whistleblower protection in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 and yet failing to deliver this endorsement in practice. Rather than support a whistleblower, they chose to victimise an employee who spoke out against unfair practice.
  • The government’s error, followed by a stubborn refusal to acknowledge a string of mistakes, has ended up costing the taxpayer a rumoured £500,000 in defence costs, on top of the £142,000 compensation package awarded to Mr Owen. It’s clear failing of policy and principle, compounded by huge financial loss.

When it comes to employment law, it is not enough just to agree with the law, but an organisation must also practice the law. The latter is more difficult, and can require learning and application, but the costs of change are often better than penalties associated with no change.