A conflict of interest arises when:
- it is impossible for us to give independent and impartial advice to a client;
- in the view of the client, we are unable to give independent and impartial advice;
- an adviser becomes aware that a client has acted fraudulently.
The purpose of identifying and taking action to avoid a conflict of interest is to ensure that:
- • Our services are independent and impartial;
- • Clients and potential clients have confidence in the advice we provide;
- • Our duty of confidentiality to our clients is maintained;
- • The Advice Service is not seen to be actively working with a client who is deliberately misleading an authority.
It is essential that in all circumstances where a client seeks advice from us, the advice given is that which best serves the client's interests.
The principle of confidentiality must be upheld at all times (this is fully described in the separate Confidentiality Procedure). Advisers must ensure that, in informing clients of a conflict of interest of any sort, confidential information about another client, employee or member of the Advice Service is not disclosed.
Identifying a conflict of interest
Any potential conflict of interest should be identified, and the client informed, as soon as possible. This is to ensure that the client can be given appropriate directions to other sources of help at an early stage in his/her case, and to prevent the outcome of the case being jeopardised by a delay in advising the client that we are unable to act.
Conflict of interest should always be considered in the following Advice situations:
- Where we are approached by two or more clients either separately or together about the same matter. This could be, for example, co-tenants, two members of the same family, student/PhD student lecturer;
- Where the issue involves a staff member or relative of a staff member of RUSU, and therefore the Adviser cannot act or be seen to act impartially;
- Where the client presents false information to the Adviser or another member of staff;
- Where there is/could be legal action against the organisation (RUSU);
- Where the client is employed (voluntary or otherwise) by RUSU and the case involves an employment matter involving the client and RUSU.
Examples of when RUSU Advice Service will not advise or act for a client
The Advice Service will not provide Advice in the following circumstances:
- Where the client is not a current student of the University of Reading.
- A student landlord, where the student landlord's interests would conflict with those of his/her student tenant(s) - for example, where a landlord wished to evict a tenant.
- Any student who wishes to take action which would result in harm or unfair loss to another person.
- Any student seeking advice on a RUSU Disciplinary matter.
- If a student states they have deliberately misled an authority.
This list is not exhaustive, if an Adviser feels that it would not be correct to give advice they should speak to the Advice Service Manager.
Conflict of Interest Procedure
In every conflict of interest situation the details and actions should be recorded on the case notes. The Adviser should consult with the Advice Service Manager or his/her Manager, the Chief Executive, Deputy Chief Executive or appointed individual (as agreed with the Advice Service Manager).
Where we are already acting for a client and another person approaches the service who would create a conflict of interest as defined by this policy, the following action should be taken:
- The Adviser will continue to act for the client who approached the Advice Service first and for whom a case has been opened.
- Following discussion with the Advice Service Manager (or his/her Manager, the Chief Executive, Deputy Chief Executive or appointed individual), the second client will be sign-posted to another RUSU Adviser or another Advice Agency. The Advisers working for each client should make every effort not to identify the other client. Neither Adviser should read the case notes of the opposing party or discuss the case.
Where an Adviser is acting for two clients and a conflict subsequently arises between the interests of these clients, the Adviser should discuss the situation with the Advice Service Manager(or his/her Manager, the Chief Executive, Deputy Chief Executive or appointed individual), who will consider the most appropriate action:
- The Adviser refers one case to another RUSU Adviser. Case details should not be discussed and other clients’ case notes should not be read by the Adviser. The clients should be informed that the cases will be treated independently and confidentially.
- One or both clients should be advised to transfer to an alternative advice service.
- The Advice Service ceases to act for both clients.
Where two or more clients approach the Service at the same time and there is a conflict of interest in acting for both/all of them, the Adviser should discuss the issue with the Advice Service Manager (or his/her Manager, the Chief Executive, Deputy Chief Executive or appointed individual) and discuss the most appropriate action:
- Referring one case to another RUSU Adviser. The clients should be informed that the cases will be treated independently and confidentially. Case details should not be discussed and other clients’ case notes should not be read by the Adviser.
- One or both clients should be advised to transfer to an alternative advice service. Acting for one of the clients only and refer the other(s) to another provider. In deciding for which client to act, factors such as whether the client is a previous client of the RUSU Advice Service, and availability of other advice providers, should be considered.
- The Advice Service ceases to act for all clients.
Where the Adviser cannot give (or cannot be seen to give) independent and impartial advice, the Adviser should discuss the situation with the Advice Service Manager(or his/her Manager, the Chief Executive, Deputy Chief Executive or appointed individual).
The client should be informed of the conflict of interest and offered alternative advice provision (see Referral Policy).
Where the case involves a RUSU staff member or there could be legal action against the organisation or a funder, the Adviser should cease to provide advice, explain Conflict of Interest to staff member and refer staff member to HR Department or member of the Senior Management team.
Where a case is based on false information the Adviser should:
- Discuss the issue with the Advice Service Manager (or his/her Manager, the Chief Executive, Deputy Chief Executive or appointed individual).
- Make every effort to confirm the information suspected of being false.
- Advise the client that the Advice Service is unable to verify any information to a 3rd party that is believed to be false.
- Advise the client of any legal or procedural consequences of using false information.
- Ensure all verbal advice and information is confirmed in writing.
- We reserve the right not to help the client going forward until they have taken action to remedy the situation. However we would not contact a third party without the client’s permission.
Managing a Conflict of Interest
- When the Adviser is made aware of a conflict of interest they should explain the situation to the party they can no longer advise; confidentiality must not be breached.
- The Adviser will need to bring the current session to a close by advising the student that they have become aware of a conflict of interest and are no longer the best Adviser to be dealing with their case.
- The Adviser will inform the student of the decision and where they can obtain further advice. Advisers can speak with the Advice Service Manager to ascertain the best course of action, and this will either be from an alternative adviser within the RUSU Advice Service, or by a referral or signpost to another advice agency.
- An Adviser is still able to advise a student on additional matters they have bought to the service where the conflict of interest does not exisist.
Advisers are encouraged to seek support from the Advice Service Manager in managing the confict of interest should they need to.