Acas Staff rules on gifts and hospitality

This guidance is intended to maintain public confidence in the service, and to protect staff against unfair and unfounded criticism. It is an offence, under the Prevention of Corruption Act 1916, for civil servants in the course of their work, corruptly to accept a gift as a reward, either for doing or not doing something in their official capacity or for showing advantage, which is widely defined in the Act.

The burden of proof rests on the person receiving favours.

If a civil servant receives money or any kind of gift from a person or organisation holding or seeking a Government contract, the courts will regard the gift as corruptly received unless the recipient can prove otherwise.

During their work, staff often come into contact with companies and organisations for whom it is normal business practice or social custom to offer hospitality and sometimes gifts, as a means of promoting helpful working relationships. This kind of offer, made to staff or their families, can place them in a difficult position. To refuse may cause misunderstanding or offence, particularly if the offer is made by an overseas Government or organisation. However, if staff were to accept, their impartiality could be in doubt, and their behaviour could be seen as improper and might even be against the law. If staff accept money or any kind of gift, they risk acting against Civil Service rules.

There are many different types of offer and the action which a member of staff should take will depend mainly on the type of relationship involved and the context in which the gift or hospitality is offered. Whatever the circumstances, members of staff should bear in mind the following points:

  • there must be nothing in their behaviour which might give rise to a suspicion that they are acting in their own private interest
  • they should never give the impression to the public or to any organisation with which they deal or to their colleagues that a gift or reward could influence the way in which they deal with any person or organisation.

When considering whether to accept, either directly or indirectly, a gift, hospitality or some other benefit, staff should bear in mind the following factors.

The type of offer - there is a difference between gifts which, with very few exceptions, should be refused; and conventional hospitality, especially when it is usual to offer hospitality in return. Gifts which are offered instead of a fee for broadcasts, speeches, talks or other work may be accepted only if the item can be used by Acas in its work.

The type of relationship - contacts with organisations with which Acas is professionally involved may raise different, but equally sensitive issues, as compared with contacts with organisations that may be actual or potential suppliers. For example staff who are involved in awarding contracts for services must never accept money or gifts from the contractor, however small. Staff should always let their line managers know about and if practical, obtain their prior agreement to occasional social contacts with for example contractors or suppliers.

The reason for the relationship - always consider why contact between Acas and the organisation has been made in the first place and the member of staff's own position in that relationship.

Value - bear in mind that there is a difference between trivial or inexpensive gifts (such as a calendar at Christmas) and more substantial or costly items, and between incidental hospitality, such as a working lunch, and expensive social functions, travel or accommodation.

Frequency - staff must not accept regular invitations from the same person or organisation. It may be in order for staff to accept isolated offers, such as meals, tickets to public sporting, social or cultural events, if they can show that attending would be in Acas' interest.

If staff are in any doubt about accepting an offer made either to them personally or to a family member, or feel that this guidance does not cover the particular circumstances of the offer, they should consult their line manager or HR Policy. The final decision on gifts, rewards and hospitality (see 5.5) lies with the appropriate senior manager, but the general rule is - if in doubt, don't accept.

Special considerations apply to gifts and hospitality from overseas bodies. Although the principles set out above generally apply, there are some occasions when staff should accept a gift and offer one in return. If these circumstances arise, or are likely to do so, report the matter to HR Policy from whom authority must be obtained before any such gift is accepted, where practicable.

All gifts, rewards and hospitality received must be recorded in the Register at appendix 3 and kept by a nominated person in the office.

Handling Contracts

Acas staff must follow the guidance set out in the Finance Guide at all times. They must not personally be involved in a contract to do work for or provide services to Acas unless they have reported to senior management the full extent of their interest in the contract, and the relevant senior manager has given permission for them to do so. This also applies to any partnership of which they are a member and any company of which they are a director. However, it does not apply either to a corporation of which they are a shareholder or if they hold a company directorship as a Government nominee. In the same way, a member of staff must not become a director of a company holding a contract with any part of Acas, unless the appropriate senior manager has given permission.

Contacts with Banks and other commercial organisations

If staff have working relationships with the staff of banks, they must never seek special treatment for their personal accounts or for those of their colleagues, nor may they benefit personally in any other way. There must be no suggestion that a member of staff could exchange the placing of Acas business with a particular bank for personal banking favours.