Public trust in charities has dropped to the lowest level since monitoring began in 2005, according to Charity Commission research.
The commission’s biennial Public Trust and Confidence in Charities survey, carried out by the polling company Populus and published today, shows the average level of trust people said they had in charities on a scale of one to 10 had fallen from 6.7 in 2014 to 5.7 this year.
William Shawcross, chair of the commission, said the results showed "action was needed to restore public confidence in charities".
The figures, which are based on surveys of a representative sample of more than 1,000 people and discussions with four focus groups conducted in March, also showed that a third of those surveyed said their trust had decreased in the past two years. Just 6 per cent felt their confidence in charities had increased.
Among those that said their trust in the sector had fallen, the main reasons cited for trusting charities less were negative media stories about charities, mentioned by 33 per cent of people, and media coverage of how charities spent donations, selected by 32 per cent.
Other concerns included not knowing how money was spent, chosen by 21 per cent, fundraising techniques that were seen as pressurising (18 per cent) and too much money being spent on advertising and staff wages (15 per cent).
The first public trust and confidence in charities survey, in 2005, showed the average score respondents gave charities out of 10 for their trustworthiness was 6.3. This rose in increments to 6.7 in 2014, but fell to a new low of 5.7 this year.
Sarah Atkinson, director of policy and communications at the commission, said a fall in trust was not unexpected after "a very difficult year for charities".
Nearly two-thirds (63 per cent) of respondents said they based their trust on one of five things: whether charities made a positive difference to their causes (16 per cent), ensured a reasonable proportion of donations made it to the cause (13 per cent), were well managed (14 per cent), ensured their fundraisers were ethical (12 per cent) and made independent decisions to further their causes (10 per cent).
Atkinson said: "If charities know what matters to the public, they can regain their trust. This research tells us a lot about the drivers of public trust.
"The public wants to see charities explain more and account better for how they manage and spend their money. We can also see that when people know more about a charity their trust and confidence in charities generally increases."
She said many charities were addressing public concerns – but there was more work to do to win back public trust.
Shawcross said in a statement: "Charities play a vital role in society, and this report shows that the public still overwhelmingly believe that.
"But public support cannot be taken for granted, and these results show that action is needed to restore public confidence.
"These results are a call to action for everyone who values public trust in charities."
Asheem Singh, interim chief executive of the charity leaders body Acevo, said the poll suggested a continued disconnect between the challenges facing the sector and the public’s understanding of them.
He said more should be done to explain the changes that had already been made by the sector in response to concerns, "but politicians, the public and the regulator must realise that these are seriously challenging times for the sector and its beneficiaries and they need support if they are begin to deliver on the task of helping to heal our divided country".