Public trust in charities still low, says Helen Stephenson

02 Jul 2018 News

Helen Stephenson speaking at the ICAEW Charity Conference 2018

Charity Commission chief executive Helen Stephenson has said that her organisation’s upcoming research will show that public trust in charities remains low.

Speaking at the ICAEW Charity Conference 2018 on Friday, Stephenson said the research would show that the public trusts charities less than “the man or woman on the street”.

The Commission publishes biennial reports on public confidence in the sector, with 2016’s results showing a score of 5.7 out of ten, the lowest since the Commission began collecting the data in 2005.

Stephenson said a continuing low score was a concern and that charities needed to do more than improve their communications strategies to boost public confidence.

She said: “Rebuilding public trust in charities does not begin and end with explaining ourselves to the public, as important as that is.

“Public trust also requires that charities adhere to high standards of conduct and behaviour in the first place, which in the case of charities includes being true to the purpose and mission, ethos and values.

“Demonstrating that everything it does helps to achieve its mission and nothing that it does detracts from that mission or ethos. In other words, we are who we say we are. Finance professionals play a crucial role in that respect.”

When asked by a delegate whether public trust in the Commission itself had fallen, Stephenson said while the new report would not cover this, other recent research “shows it has stayed pretty static with us”.

The Charity Commission’s 2017 research found 38 per cent of members of the public were aware of the regulator’s work, while 47 per cent said it was “effective”.

‘Better accounting procedures needed’

Stephenson said she had been disappointed by charity auditors’ initial reaction to the Commission’s new rules introduced to boost standards following Kids Company’s collapse.

Since May 2017, the list of issues that charity auditors can report to the Commission as matters of material significance has been extended.

Stephenson said she was disappointed that only one in four auditors who gave the Commission audit opinions in the six months to October 2017 alerted them to matters of material significance.

She said: “To be frank, and this isn’t just from my perspective, this is just not good enough. In fact it is a serious concern to us and we have been working in partnership with the ICAEW and others to raise awareness of this new requirement and to improve compliance.”

However, Stephenson said this is improving as the Commission has received 194 reports of matters of material significance in the last financial year, compared to 17 in the previous year.

She added: “We do need to encourage all finance professionals working in and with charities to give the best at all times. And we need to take robust steps when individual bad apples sell the sector, their profession, and the public, short.”

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