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A year like no other for Protect’s Advice Line

The 16 March 2020 will be remembered as a key moment in how Covid-19 affected the United Kingdom. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that evening that all of the UK, if possible, should work from home. Effective immediately.

For over a quarter of a century, Protect has been providing free legal advice to whistleblowers through its telephone-based service. During every working day, there has been a dedicated group of legal advisers, in a confidential section of an office, ready to pick up the phone to whistleblowers desperately in need of our support. At around 8pm on this fateful day, though, we were suddenly faced with having to provide this service without an office to base it from.

Fortunately, some contingency planning had already been undertaken, and within the same week we were able to set up laptops or mobile phones as remote nodes on our VOIP phone system, so that calls to our landline number could be routed through to our Advisers in their respective homes. Many of our processes and procedures had to change, but by the following Monday our phone lines were back open, and we were helping whistleblowers up and down the country as if nothing had changed. It was though, harder for others.

Back in the Spring, we assumed that these changes would only ever be short-term, but as we close out the year, the team are still anchored to their electronic devices, spread out separately across the country. Video-conferencing helps us replace some of the lost interaction, but a demanding job was made even more demanding when the team were isolated in this way.

And what a demanding year it was. In June, the team dealt with 66% more cases than the previous busiest month in the Charity’s entire history. It wasn’t just that these were unprecedented times, it was unprecedented just how unprecedented they were. This year will likely finish up over 20% higher than any previous year, and at times individual Advisers were dealing with three times the number of new cases that they would be in a normally busy year.

As we look back across a year where whistleblowers have been more needed than ever  I not only want to thank those brave enough to speak up, but also my talented Protect colleagues who – in the most difficult of circumstances – kept on supporting them in doing so.

By Bob Matheson, Head of Advice & Advocacy