Samaritans launches new whistleblowing hotline

·3-min read
Samaritans logo - Mike Kemp/Corbis News
Samaritans logo - Mike Kemp/Corbis News

The Samaritans has launched a whistleblowing phone line for volunteers to report colleagues’ bad behaviour.

An investigation carried out by The Telegraph revealed earlier this week that Samaritans volunteers abused their position of trust by having sex with vulnerable callers. The revelations prompted the charity to “listen in” to conversations for the first time.

On Tuesday, it emerged that vulnerable people contacting the Samaritans would have their emails answered from volunteers’ homes, raising fears that the personal information of callers could be susceptible to hackers or rogue volunteers.

Julian Knight, the Conservative MP for Solihull and chairman of the digital, culture, media and sport select committee, called for the Charity Commission to launch an investigation into the “incredibly serious allegations against a charity which is charged with helping people at their most vulnerable”.

Now, The Telegraph can reveal that the Samaritans - which provides a helpline service for people in emotional distress or at risk of suicide and has strict rules concerning volunteer contact with callers - is launching its “concerns line”, a new phoneline for whistleblowers.

The charity has seen 44 serious safeguarding incidents occur with volunteers since 2017 - many of which occurred “in the duty room”, where calls take place. Many of the incidents have also been brought to the charity’s attention only via a third party.

As a result, the charity’s board of trustees requested that a dedicated phone line and email address be established to enable whistleblowing staff and volunteers to raise concerns confidentially and “without fear of reprisal”.

An internal charity briefing, seen by The Telegraph, says that the new “concerns line”, which went live on July 1 following a “safeguarding and service quality review”, “should result in improved quality, consistency, and safety of support for all callers”.

It adds that by “widening the reporting options for staff and volunteers”, it will “reduce the number of people operating outside the current policies and procedures”.

In early August, volunteers were emailed with information about the new hotline, which is open 24 hours a day for reports of “breaches of policy or wrongdoing”.

The phone line and email are managed by the governance team at the charity’s central office. Previously volunteers would have contacted leaders at their local branch with any concerns.

Complaints and concerns will be flagged to the appropriate individual to take forward using relevant policies and procedures. If a concern relates to branch matters - such as volunteer misconduct - it will then be passed to branch directors.

The charity already has a whistleblowing policy but the new service is being launched to provide an additional way for staff and volunteers to raise concerns.

A spokesman for the Samaritans declined to comment on the new service.

The charity has reported itself to the Charity Commission, which said on Monday that it was “assessing the information provided and [was] in contact with the charity”.

The “listening in” policy, another change introduced as a result of the revelations, has raised concerns among some volunteers that the charity’s commitment to confidentiality is being undermined.

Previously calls were confidential in almost all cases, with exceptions where a child or vulnerable person was at risk, where emergency services or social services could be contacted.

A dedicated team of staff and volunteers will now listen in to a random selection of calls to check for policy breaches or poor-quality responses, a change that has raised concerns among some volunteers who said they no longer felt comfortable assuring callers that what they shared was entirely confidential.

Julie Bentley, the chief executive of Samaritans, told The Telegraph that it had identified a “very small number” of safeguarding incidents.

“Our robust investigation procedures meant these incidents were handled swiftly and appropriate action taken.

“Any safeguarding matter is one too many and as such we review our practices on an ongoing basis and have introduced further measures as part of our commitment to delivering a consistently high-quality experience for our callers,” she said.

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