24 August 2009

Reasons not to go for an independent investigation

The National Bullying Helpline (Charity) is inextricably linked to HR & Diversity Management Limited (a commercial business). They were both set up by the same person, Christine Pratt. One client received and followed her advice after calling the National Bullying Helpline which resulted in Pratt, through HR & Diversity Management Ltd, working for her client's employer and writing a report that condemned her client. This post spells out some of the reasons the client fell for it:

Under the section for Employees, the NBH website says:
"Would you rather have an independent investigator look into your grievance or appeal - or a manager at work? If you want to request an independent, impartial, investigation - call us."
Bear in mind the National Bullying Helpline does not conduct investigations - these are done by HR & Diversity Management Ltd. So the National Bullying Helpline is promoting the commercial services of HR & Diversity Management Ltd. The latter is neither a charity, a trade union nor a law firm, and it is not authorised (by the Ministry of Justice under the Claims Management Regulations 2006) to advise individuals on their potential claims.

If you call the National Bullying Helpline for advice because you think you are being bullied at work, you may be told that you need to write out your grievance and give it to your employer, and that the fairest way to have your grievance dealt with is for HR & Diversity Management to conduct an independent investigation. If you're lucky, you'll be advised by the CEO and founder, Christine Pratt. You will likely be sent some printable material including a "what to do guide" and a "step by step guide".

The “What To Do Guide” says:
"If your employer does not agree to an Independent Investigation it is likely they have something to hide. As a final resort you should consider the recommendations contained in the FREE Step By Step Guide issued by the National Bullying Helpline (HR & Diversity Management Ltd). Your statutory rights are explained fully in this document."

The step by step guide includes this advice:

"If you still need help, before invoking a Tribunal claim or instructing a solicitor, consider using us as a Third Party Dispute Resolution Service. The DTI recommend this approach (See Page 20: Michael Gibbons Review). We have helped resolve many situations through an employee going to their Executive Management and asking for an independent investigation into their dispute/grievance. Most of our work is done in this area and we have proved extremely successful in ‘taking the heat out of a situation’ and persuading both the employer and employee to settle out of Court. Talk to someone you trust at work, at a senior level, and recommend this as a ‘way forward’. Generally, employers will welcome a positive approach to a problem and by recommending this service you will acquire a real feel for whether your employer is a ‘caring’ employer, or not."

Bearing in mind that you probably rang the helpline because you were out of ideas, you might be persuaded that this is a good idea. If you are, you'll be sent a template letter complete and send to your employer. In 2007 the letter included these words:

"Following my letter / grievance letter submitted on …… (provide some details), I have been feeling increasingly unwell and have now been signed off work for Work Related Stress by my GP for a period of ….. The treatment I am enduring presently is making me feel unwell.

"I would therefore like to formally request that you authorise/ instigate an independent investigation or mediation in respect of concerns I have regarding my employment situation. This approach is less confrontational than a formal process as both parties may be able to reach an amicable solution.

"I have identified a Company, HR & Diversity Management Limited (HR&DM) who specialise in providing a complete Dispute Resolution service (both independent investigations and/or a mediation service). I ask that you now authorise this company to assist in this case..."

The letter goes on to set out the virtues of HR&DM, whose portfolio was provided to complete the introduction. This is not the same as you being referred to one of the charity's "sources of help" of which it says HR & Diversity Management is just one. In fact it is the opposite. By sending this letter to your employer you are in fact referring HR & Diversity Management Ltd to your employer.

It is implicit that if you call a charity that calls itself the "National Bullying Helpline", you will be helped. It is implicit that the worst they could do is say "sorry, we cannot help you". The very last thing you would expect is that the helpline operator would team up with the person or organisation you feel is bullying you. So, if you are sure you have been bullied, and when the registered charity has advised you that this investigation is in your best interests, you would only recommend them in the belief that your grievance will be upheld. You would never recommend them if they told you that YOU might turn out to be the bully - would you?


The selling point that the National Bullying Helpline makes to you is probably quite different from the selling point they make to your employer. HR & Diversity Management's web site says:

"At HR&DM we have designed a model which ascertains, very early on, whether an employee grievance is vexatious or not. This model also assists employers with their line of defence as it identifies where policies need reviewing and where training or diversity initiatives are required to ensure problems do not occur again."

"Use a Third Party to Investigate cases of Grievance where you suspect Bullying or Harassment has taken place. An acceptance of a third party decision by an employee, is far less expensive than an internal decision which is not accepted by the employee who takes the case to an Employment Tribunal." [HR&DM's emphasis]

HR & DM's "bullying business" investigations page also tells employers is this:
"During 2006 25% of cases found that the instigator, the alleged victim, was in fact, the bully."
 The same firm's "bullying business" statistics page says:
"During 2006 32% of the complaints investigated by HR&DM were found to be vexatious."

These statistics are not backed up by data but the claim that HR & DM's investigation process "assists employers with their line of defence" is probably not something that is said to people who call the National Bullying Helpline. At least it isn't in large print until HR & DM writes it in their "investigation report".

If your employer is lucky, the investigation will be done by HR & Diversity Manangement's founder, former MD and HR management expert Christine Pratt - the same person who advised you when you rang the National Bullying Helpline.

SO... What do you do if you call the helpline, feeling bullied, recommend the investigation services to your employer and you're then deemed to have committed gross misconduct by doing what the helpline advises? (blog post on this topic to follow) If you have any energy, who do you get in touch with? The Helpline or HR & Diversity Management Ltd?

The National Bullying Helpline website says:

"There is a complaints procedure on this website. Write in with any concerns and our Trustee's will always respond." [sic]
So you search the website and find a section headed “COMPLAINTS POLICY” which says:
"If you have any complaints about our Charity, or any members of our staff, please write to the registered office of our Charity at 29 Devizes Road, Swindon, SN1 4BG. Mark your letter for the attention of The Trustee's of The National Bullying Helpline." [sic]
As policies and procedures go, that is quite short. Note that the NBH shares the registered office with HR & DM Ltd, and Christine's husband David is a director of both. It's also their home address.

If you complain that the NBH is being used as a front to gain business for HR & DM, the trustees may determine that your concerns are outside the remit of the charity, and say you should refer your complaint to the Directors of HR and Diversity Management Ltd. If you do that, they may say that you were not their client. If you write to the Charities Commission, they will probably ask the trustees to investigate. If you write to the Claims Management Regulator, they will say HR&DM is not providing regulated services, and the NBH is exempt from the regulations.

In other words, if you call the National Bullying Helpline for help, because you believe you're being bullied at work, and you follow their advice, they might tell your employer that you are the bully, call your grievance vexatious, and leave you in a worse position than when you started, with no comeback at all. That's why this blog is here.

29 comments:

  1. Spot on I reckon, and I don't think that this is the only scam anti-bullying 'charity' to be operating in this country.

    Ms Pratt's qualifications (FCIPD and FCMI) confirm her true allegiance - HR and Management - her organisation is there to support the bullies not the bullied.

    Any way I can help uncover this?

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  2. As a vulnerable employee and victim of workplace bullying I had a bad experience dealing with the National Bullying Helpline which made things even more stressful for me. I would not trust Christine Pratt acting in my best interests as a complainant of bullying, and going on BBC news to break confidentiality of her clients confirms my fears. I hope the UK's wealth of highly talented journalists get to the bottom of what her organisation is all about. They won't have to dig deep - it looks like this woman has just opened her own can of worms. Bullied of Bournemouth.

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  3. I too had a problem. However, I found the helpline extremely professional and helpful. They did not want all the gory details, just advised a strategy and my rights.

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  4. I have heard about this lady

    She worked temporarily for the civil service at the Fire Service college I understand, and her staff in HR were very relieved when she "left"

    According to what I have been told-she acted like the bully and no one after she left had a good word for her at all

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  5. There is a clear conflict of interests here: Pratt not only advertises her own business on the charity's website, but also a number of law firms. I'm very surprised this practice passes muster with the Charity Commission.

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  6. I called them too and to say they were pushing the services of their "associate company" would be an understatement. What am I? A worried employee or a sales opportunity.

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  7. Would we even be looking at this blog, and would the Charity Commission be tasked to investigate this, had they not had the audacity to speak out against Gordon Brown's bullying in No10 Downing Street

    bobthedog

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  8. Just a quick note to say, I totally agree with the person who mentioned our nation's journalists should investigate this issue. I personally would love to see a Panorama doccumentary on this. My main concern is how many bullied people have been 'sold down the river' as a result of the liason between NBH and HR and Diversity Management.

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  9. I am a university lecturer at Sheffield Business School, and lead modules in HRM and Employee Relations (i.e. lecture on workplace issues from both employer and employee perspectives). The business school also provides CPD courses on mediation, and some of the staff (including myself) have authored papers on the subject.

    I am concerned at the description above. The anti-bullying charity is recommending mediation, and referring people to a commercial business. However, by producing a report for the employer that evaluates whether a claim is vexatious or not, the service provided is arbitration, and not mediation. Mediators do not, generally, evaluate claims by employees. They act to rebuild a relationship that has broken down by helping parties reach an agreement.

    There are a number of recognised forms of mediation: directive (in which recommendations may be made); facilitative (used by ACAS), and transformative (which coaches parties to agree both process and outcome of the mediation). None of them are based on an external party evaluating the grievance for the employer or employee.

    Dr Rory Ridley-Duff
    Sheffield Business School

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  10. What is with this the Bullying Helpline accounts are shown 207 days overdue what a way to run a charity (No 1117852). Just go and look up the figures!! Credible? I think NOT

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  11. "By April 2009 our Government will be promoting dispute resolution service providers and recommending better use of helplines and mediators to employers – such as The National Bullying Helpline. We know ACAS is likely to receive some £37million funding over the next three years. However, it will be The National Bullying Helpline that will be doing the majority of the work. ACAS is presently working closely with the Charity presently to ensure ‘continuity’ in respect of the service provided today. Over the past 5 years, ACAS, Citizens Advice, The Samaritans, The Employment Tribunal system, Occupational Health experts, Employment Assistance Programme Providers, CAPITA, the FBU and other the Trade Unions, all refer bullying cases to The National Bullying Helpline. Most, if not all, of the above receive Lottery or Government funding. The National Bullying Helpline is funded entirely by Christine and her husband David – and continues to grow from strength to strength. " (Letter from the NBH)

    This statement was on a letter I received from the NBH in 2008 - do you think that it is all true? How did she get the referrals and why? How many of these calls were converted into leads for the consultancy?

    I'd love some one to let me know if the NBH is now doing the majority of the work rather than ACAS as she predicts? Wonder what ACAS have to say?

    Just a thought.

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  12. What really does upset me, this so called charity was set up in the memory of the late Tim Field, a man who worked very hard to show that workplace bullying was a serious problem. I know, he helped me.

    This Pratt of a woman has used this man's good name as a front. I cannot believe she has no ties to the tories. Fortunately this stupidity has slapped her and them right back in the face, all I hope is that serious investigation will now take place into this so called Pratts charity.

    I really have concerns that the name of Tim Field has been blackened by this, my memories of him are of a caring, kind man who gave his time freely to those who contacted him relating to work place bullying.

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  13. I/we had dealings with this woman back in 2004 in her capacity as a conflict manager following a suspension due to false allegations. She was useless and in fact added fuel to the fire. She actually grabbed a colleague of mine by the lapels and yelled viciously at he following a particularly difficult meeting.

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  14. If any substantial or positive link is eventually made to the tories, and they lose the 2010 election, Christine Pratt's name will go down in history:

    "Prattgate?"

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  15. Obviously this story is free meat for the political journalists on both sides, but suggesting that Pratt's actions were taken for political reasons suggests that she has altruism and an ability to think strategically. She has damaged both main political parties, but not for political reasons. She just wanted a headline to elevate her profile even further beyond what she deserves... In fact, while people continue to speculate about GB and DC, the press have got CP's public profile just about spot on.

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  16. A question for the blog authors: were you against the late Tim Field?

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  17. "Were you against the late Tim Field?"

    On the contrary, Tim Field has been the inspiration for exposing this scam, not only for what it is, but because Christine Pratt's credibility was built on the back of his legacy, and she has purported all along to be carrying on his work. Tim Field was a bright light that shone out in the darkness, and she wanted to look like him. Seeming to be like Tim Field slotted in perfectly to the immoral marketing strategy for HR&DM, as did registering the telephone number as a charity, and engaging the trust of Cary Cooper. Tim's tragic death was the perfect opportunity for Pratt to move in on his family and his legacy.I first met her at Tim's bedside in his last days, and all she wanted to talk about was his business interests and her new CIPD qualification.

    In answer to your question, no, quite the opposite. I am utterly pro-Tim Field

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  18. I cannot believe that the Charity Commission have approved an arrangment whereby a charity is used as a means of referring customers to a business, one in fact owned by the same person as runs the charity. This would be a gross abuse of the Charities Act 2006 which states that a charity must be established 'for charitable purposes only' and lists what count as charitable purposes (the relief of poverty, the advancement of education etc.). If the Charity Commission did approve this referral arrangement then we need to know:

    (a) how that happened,

    (b) what the Commission is doing to investigate whether it has happened in other cases, and to rectify decisions made in those cases,

    (c) what the Commission is doing to ensure that it does not happen again.

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  19. I was a Christine Pratt victim. Psychologically she really hurt me when I was at my most vulnerable. Thankfully someone who knew about HR issues stepped in and helped me. She used my case to get work with my employer for her husband. Her investigation was not impartial. My case was in 2006 and I am still not fully over it and it damaged my health.

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  20. My Mother would always say "don`t worry they will get their comeuppance" and thats exactly what she has got..... having been at then end of Mrs Pratt`s inappropriate and deplorable behaviour whilst at the Fire Service College!

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  21. I too had dealings with that woman at the Fire Service College in Moreton in Marsh. Her name is Christine Bully Pratt! She was she eventaully removed in a huff, I belive, with pot plant in hand!

    This woman is vile and should be removed from what ever office she holds. Qualifications, memberships who on earth monitors these incompetent and damaging idiots in the workplace. Not only was she emploiyed by the Civil Service they endorsed her behaviour. Still awaiting an apology! Perhaps it's time to dig the CD's out with all that evidence! Happy holidays Christine!

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  22. Christine Pratt has damaged the very notion of 'charitable giving'. Many will be deterred (even further) from giving money to good causes, on discovering that the Charity Commission allowed her to continue with her despicable money-grabbing operation

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  23. Non of this comes as a surprise to the local residents who live near the Pratts as they appear to totally ignore the law if it doesn't suit their own purposes.

    They have a large dog who has been viciously attacking neighboring dogs for years. We have been victims ourselves but there are many many others.

    A court order is in place which should ensure that the couple muzzle and restrain their dog - but of course they ignore this and despite many calls to police and dog warden and statements gathered from those affected - nothing has ever been done!

    Sorry to rant as I know that this is a totally seperate issue to the horror of what they have done via the NBH but I just wanted to make the point that many local resident are victims of this couples actions too.

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  24. When I became a victim of false allegations and vicious bullying, in desperation I rang Pratt. She told me she was a good friend of Tim Field and had visited him in hospital and could tell me confidentially he was suffering from terminal cancer. This was at my first call and at a time that the much respected Tim Fields family had asked for no disclosure of his illness. Pratt took my details and within 24 hours told me she had been in touch with my employer and she wanted an up front payment of £250 to cover her expenses, saying she could not work for nothing, researching and going to meetings. When I began to question the charges, she quickly became the bully and threatened me with court action. She said she had worked very hard for me and had been able to negotiate a severance deal for me that she thought I should take. Some who read this may well agree with her actions – however I would like to point out I never gave her permission to approach my firm, let alone negotiate a severance deal since all I wanted back was to return to my work, where I could carry out my duties in a safe and bully free environment. May I suggest this woman is devious enough to have made up this story of bullying at No10 and disclosed this fictitious bullying claim to the media in an attempt to gain advertising for her ailing charity (!) She is a bully and I for one pray to God that in the end she will get exactly what she deserves. I also believe most strongly that her involvement in my case dramatically damaged my position and would plead with anyone who is being bullied NOT to contact her.

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  25. To all those thinking that Christine Pratt is the victim in all of this, ask yourselves one question would any civil servant working at Whitehall have called a helpline in confidence only to then volunteer that they worked in Whitehall and were being bullied by Gordon Brown?

    And, if indeed, Christine Pratt did receive such calls why would she be convinced that they were genuine and not the work of pranksters? Did she actually check that these callers did in fact work where they said and for whom? Even if the callers were genuine how could she know that they were telling the truth? Surely that is why industrial tribunals exist so both parties get a chance to put forward their cases?

    As her organisation promises to maintain the confidentiality of callers, what did she think could possibly be gained by going public with this information other than a chance to have her face in the papers
    and be famous albeit for fifteen seconds? If Gordon Brown decides to sue her for libel, which to my mind he should, would she not then be forced to reveal her sources thus making a nonsense of her organisation's promise to maintain the confidentiality of callers? But hang she already breached confidentiality by going to the press in the first place.

    It seems to me this was nothing more than an exercise in self promotion which has blown up spectacularly in Christine's Pratt's face. Not only has her own shady business practices been highlighted but the same charity she had attempted to promote has suffered irreparable damage to it's reputation.

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  26. The object of the helpline is to help, the person, and the key to support is active listening. That means listening to a lot of bullying trauma related experiances. The approach of the NBH-HR&DM is to cut to the chase and go for the roghts and sell a product.

    Note Mrs Pratt thinks the complete opposite and talks about rights, and processes. Yes these are imporatnt, but only if approriate.

    A supportive approach looks at health, family and other more important factors. Simply initiating a complaint is the first step to the hell of the Tribunal courts. There is only two winners here, Mrs Pratt and the lawyer.

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  27. On a point about vexatious complaints - If you have ever tried to pursue a legitimate complaint you will know just how difficult and stressful it is. Who in their right minds would want to go through that only to be found out? This is too high risk to contemplate and therefore probably a myth perpetrated to deter etc.

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  28. The National Bullying Helpline's accounts are now 267 days overdue for filing at the Charity Commission.

    Meanwhile, the operators of this discredited charity are thanking people for donations on their website. Shouldn't the Charity Commission be stepping in here with some further regulatory action?

    The last accounts filed (£1,818) covered the year up to September 30, 2007. It's now April 2010, nearly three years later. So what money has been coming in since 2007 and what has it been spent on?

    Does anyone have details of what the Pratts' private firm had as income during that time? Perhaps the Charity Commission will enlighten the public soon.

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  29. Just found this site and am amazed to read that Christine Pratt actually managed to make a living out of being an "expert" on bullying. Having had personal experience of her ineptness and lack of professionalism when she'd just set up in business, I'd have thought she'd have shrivelled up and fallen down a hole by now. But it seems she's been raking it in.

    She was called in to do an "independent investigation" after I brought a claim of bullying against my boss at a big English charity almost a decade ago. She was unbelievably unprofessional and blatantly biased. She didn't even bother to read my complaint, saying she was too busy, and made outrageous and unfounded allegations about my honesty. Her final report slammed me but was then torn to shreds and dismissed by the charity's own internal auditor. I got a big fat payout after taking the charity to the Employment Tribunal and I doubt they'd have employed her again. But who knows? She went on to bigger and better things.

    I thought Christine Pratt was really stupid but it turns out she was very very clever. She'll rise again, no doubt. Avoid her like the plague!

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