Public trust in charities 'at lowest level since 2005', commission figures show

Regulator says the report shows people expect charities to be guided by their ethos and purposes

Public trust in charities has fallen to its lowest level since 2005, according to new figures published by the Charity Commission.

The regulator’s report Trust in Charities 2018, published today, says it found an average level of trust in charities of 5.5 out of 10, lower than the 5.7 out of 10 two years ago, the last time the exercise was conducted.

The figure is the lowest since the commission started recording levels of public trust in charities in 2005, which has been done every two years since 2008.

The average level of trust in charities was 6.6 or 6.7 out of 10 between 2008 and 2014 before falling to 5.7 in 2016, which the report says was down to controversies surrounding Kids Company and Age UK.

The proportion of people who said their trust in charities had fallen over the past two years has grown dramatically since 2014, when it was 18 per cent, to 45 per cent this year. It was 33 per cent in 2016, researchers found.

This year’s research, which involved a survey by the polling company Populus of more than 2,000 representative adults in England and Wales, was conducted at the end of February, just two weeks after the Oxfam scandal first broke.

The commission said that overall trust in charities was now at "similar levels" to those of 2016 and the change in score was the result of a change in methodology, which has involved moving to an online-based survey rather than an automated telephone interview.

Researchers found that, on average, charities were trusted less than a "man/woman on the street", which scored 5.7 out of 10.

Doctors were the most trusted, with an average score of 7.4 out of 10, with police in second place on 6.4.

But charities fared better than such groups as social services, on 5.3 out of 10, and private companies, on 5.0.

MPs scored lowest out of the 11 categories in the poll, with an average score of 3.6 out of 10.

Younger people were far more likely to trust charities than their older peers, the research showed, with 51 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds rating their trust in charities as seven out of 10 or higher. Only 30 per cent of 55 to 64-year-olds and 31 per cent of over-65s did likewise.

Respondents were asked to rate how much different factors affected their trust in charities.

Researchers found that "transparent about where money goes" was the most important factor, with an average score of 8.8 out of 10, followed by being "true to their values", on 8.5.

"Efficient use of resources" was next on 8.4, and "entirely volunteer run" scored the lowest out of the seven factors suggested, scoring an average of six out of 10.

A person’s trust in charities was found to be closely associated with their donating behaviour, with 52 per cent of respondents who said their trust in charities had increased saying they donated more to charities as a consequence, the research showed.

By comparison, 41 per cent of those who said their trust in charities had decreased said they gave less to charities as a result.

People with higher levels of trust were far more likely to have recently made repeat donations to a charity than those with low levels of trust, the report says.

Baroness Stowell, chair of the Charity Commission, said the research showed the public no longer gave charities the benefit of the doubt.

"What the public expect is not unreasonable: they want charities to be guided by their ethos and purpose in everything they do, and they want charities to use their money efficiently and responsibly," she said.

"The public has seen evidence of charities failing to demonstrate these behaviours. So it is not surprising that trust has not recovered and that the public are calling for greater transparency. This is proxy for a more profound issue: the public want evidence that charities are what they say they are."

Aidan Warner, senior external relations officer at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, said the research was an important temperature gauge for the sector and "it seems the attitude to charities is still chillier than we’d like".

He said: "We need to think of trust-building as a constant campaign for everyone in the sector, the success of which will be driven in large part by every charity being seen to live its values."

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in