Charity bosses have been warned about high pay as research finds that the public do not accept that they should receive private sector salaries.

The Charity Commission has found that trust in the third sector grew during the pandemic but said that there was “no room for complacency”.

Confidence was “fragile” and people wanted to know above all that as much of their money as possible was reaching good causes, the commission found.

The findings come after a Telegraph investigation revealed that more than 270 charities are paying their bosses more than the Prime Minister.

Helen Stephenson, the chief executive of the commission, said: “More than ever, people need evidence that charities are not ends in themselves, but vehicles for making the world a better place, both through what they achieve, and the values they live along the way.”

The findings of their latest report, seen by The Telegraph, show that Covid-19 has helped to reverse a decade-long decline in the public perception of the work that charities do.

Mean trust and confidence in charities

The pandemic has shone a light on the inequalities in society, on the positive difference charities can make and on “the public generosity inspired by the late Captain Tom Moore”, the regulator said.

The commission believes that this is behind the “modest but significant” improvement in public attitudes toward the third sector in the past year, which were “steps in the right direction”.

However, the report warned: “There is no room for complacency. While the context in which charities have operated since March 2020 has changed, people’s fundamental attitudes towards charity have not.

“There remains significant consensus within society that a high proportion of funds raised by charities should be spent on beneficiaries, that the impact promised should be delivered, that being a charity means acting charitably too, and that all charities have a collective responsibility to uphold the good name of charity by doing all these things.”

Top earners

A series of scandals across the sector, including questions over Age UK’s links to energy companies and the Oxfam sex abuse scandal, saw trust in the sector plummet from a high in 2014.

From an average score of 6.7 out of 10, it fell to 5.5 in 2018 before slowly beginning to recover. In 2021 it was up to 6.4 out of 10 compared to 6.2 the year before.

The research stated that the recovery “remains a gradual one” and “comparable uplifts occurred for nearly all other sectors tested”.

“Expectations of charities are great, and therefore so too is the effect on trust when those expectations are not met,” the report noted.

Trust is highest – at 70 per cent – and growing fastest among the metropolitan elite, but across the country only just over half of the population trust charities.

The independent research, conducted by Yonder on behalf of the commission, showed that the perceived importance of charities in society also increased.

From a high of 76 per cent of people viewing charities as “essential” or “very important” in 2012, the perception plummeted to a rock bottom of 55 per cent in 2020. By March 2021 this had recovered to 60 per cent.

The four most important expectations of a charity, the Charity Commission noted, were where the money goes, the impact that they make, how they achieve their aims, and that they uphold the standards of the charity.

But currently only 17 per cent of the public were “completely convinced  that a high proportion of charity funds raised goes to the end”.

Surveys found that the public tended to agree that the “nature of charity work means that it is wrong that some charity CEOs are paid the same as CEOs in the private sector”.

The so-called “charity discount” was also backed by charity trustees, but to a slightly lesser extent.

A spokesperson for the commission said that they “welcomed” finding that trust was “continuing to recover after hitting an all-time low three years ago”, but said that it “remains fragile, and charities must respond to underlying public expectations if they are to fully return to levels of trust last seen a decade ago.”