UK public trusts charities less than average person in the street

Oxfam. (Reuters pic)

LONDON: The British public places less trust in charities than in the average person in the street, regulators said on Tuesday, following a year in which sex abuse scandals rocked the sector.

Nearly half the respondents in a survey said their trust in charities had fallen, compared to a third in 2016 and less than a fifth in 2014, according to the Charity Commission.

The body, which regulates charities in England and Wales, said rebuilding trust would depend on behavioural change.

“We consider it unsatisfactory that charities are trusted less than the average man or woman in the street,” it said in a report, adding that trust was key to the public’s willingness to become long-term supporters.

“We mustn’t wait for donations … to be hit before we act.”

Transparency about where the money goes was judged the most important factor for generating trust, followed by charities being true to their values, efficient use of resources, good management and the ability to demonstrate impact.

Research showed public trust in charities remained low, with respondents giving the sector a score of 5.5 out of 10 – around the same as in 2016, but down from 2014.

Humanitarian charities have been rocked by reports of Oxfam staff using prostitutes in Haiti, the exploitation of Syrian women in return for aid, and the harassment of women at the head offices of global charities.

The study of 2,059 adults was conducted in February – just after the Oxfam scandal broke – but the report suggested other controversies surrounding domestic charities may also have impacted confidence.

Oxfam was the most widely cited name when respondents were asked about what types of organisations came to mind when they thought about charities.

However, the report cautioned that respondents were generally more likely to think of organisations helping children, the elderly, animals and medical causes than overseas humanitarian aid.

It said there were significant public suspicions that a good proportion of donations did not reach those they were intended to help, and there was a perception that too much money was spent on advertising, wages and administration.

Commission chairwoman, Baroness Stowell, said the public expected charities to be guided by their ethos in everything they do, and to use money responsibly.

“The public has seen evidence of charities failing to demonstrate these behaviours. So it is not surprising that trust has not recovered,” she said in a statement.

“The public wants evidence that charities are what they say they are.”