Bullying row sparks calls for national register of helplines to ensure confidentiality

The first patron to quit an anti-bullying charity this week, after its founder breached confidentiality during the Number 10 bullying row, has backed calls for all helplines to be registered nationally to ramp up standards.

Cary Cooper, now an ex-patron of the National Bullying Helpline (NBH), said it would be a “very good idea” to set some ground rules for helplines that all owners must follow if they are to stay operating legally.

The call comes after Christine Pratt, founder of the NBH, breached confidentiality by alleging that three or four Downing Street staff had contacted the helpline with claims of bullying at the prime minister’s office.

Cooper told Personnel Today: “Creating a national register of helplines might be a very good idea. That way, everybody knows early on what you can and cannot reveal. It’s another bit of bureaucracy but maybe we need that after this incident.”

Should Christine Pratt resign?

Pressure is building on the trustees of the National Bullying Helpline to decide whether Christine Pratt should resign.

The founder of the NBH this week faces having to explain her actions to all five trustees, as anger among anti-bullying experts grows over her decision to go public about alleged Downing Street staff calls.

Cary Cooper said: “It’s up to the trustees to decide that [whether she should resign]. Let her have a discussion with the trustees, maybe they have decided that this is a breach, and from now on, they won’t name employers under any circumstances. That would be a resolution, that she and nobody else in the organisation could do this again.”

Four patrons of the charity have quit, citing breaches of confidentiality.

The Helplines Association (THA) told Personnel Today that it should have greater power to monitor all charity-run helplines – currently the NBH is not registered with the body and there is no legal obligation for it to do so.

Rekha Wadhwani, chief executive of the THA, said that although the Charities Commission regulated 180,000 organisations, it was unrealistic to expect it to monitor all helplines without extra support. “We would like for us to be given that remit from the commission or government to say ‘you look after the helpline, you have the skills and resources to set up a register.’

“It would be approved by the commission or funded through a trust-fund grant. Helplines would then need to go through the register, to make sure they meet at least the minimum criteria for confidentiality.”

Pratt, who has adamantly denied she had breached confidentiality by going public about the alleged Number 10 staff calls, said she would welcome a national register of helplines.

“I’d be happy to learn and move forward,” she said. But, she added: “We have no funds and we get no support. We are not government-funded, that’s why we are able to speak freely, we’re running this charity on donations and gifts.”

The Charity Commission said it had no power to expand the THA’s remit. The Cabinet Office was unavailable for comment.

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