Charity Resilience Index: Charities forced to create waiting lists, charge fees and turn people away due to demand

 

In December we surveyed 653 charities as part of the latest wave of our Charity Resilience Index. The Charity Resilience tracks how charities are experiencing and responding to the cost-of-living crisis in the UK.

Key Findings

  • Many charities are seeing an increase in demand for their services and more people coming to them in a state of extreme need.
  • Half of over 650 charities surveyed are operating at maximum capacity which has led many to scale back the level of support they can provide.
  • Charities are uncertain on whether they can sustain the staffing levels required to meet rising demand, and the current working environment is putting a strain on the morale of staff at some charities.

Neil Heslop OBE, Chief Executive of the Charities Aid Foundation, said:

“Many charities are stuck in a Catch 22 situation. They face higher demand, while struggling with declining income, and significantly higher costs. Despite being the last port of call for the most vulnerable in our society, they are having to make very difficult decisions to introduce waiting lists, charge fees or turn people away who desperately need their help.

“The pandemic and support in the Chancellor’s 2023 Budget brought stop-gap solutions, without which many more charities would have folded. But with charities facing significant uncertainty, we need Government to take the lead and introduce a turnaround plan to support a strong charity sector and thriving civil society for the future.”

Half of charities are operating at maximum capacity and many are being forced to make difficult decisions on who they can help

 

Almost two thirds (65%) of charities say that demand has increased compared to a year ago, with nearly a third (32%) saying it has increased substantially.

Half of charities (50%) surveyed say they are at full capacity for their services. This includes over a third (35%) of charities surveyed who say they cannot help anyone else, and one in seven (15%) who say they have been forced to turn people away.

Of the 323 charities we spoke to who are at capacity, half (51%) have had to make judgements to prioritise those most in need and two-fifths (41%) are signposting people to other organisations. Around three in ten (28%) of these charities have created a waiting list and one in 10 (9%) have stopped taking referrals altogether. A quarter of at-capacity charities have scaled back to focus only on core services. One in six (16%) is considering charging fees to help them meet the demand.

Figure 1

Resources are tightening, but more people are in extreme need

 

Six in ten charities (61%) say they are generally having to do more with less compared to this time last year.

Despite this, almost half (47%) of charities are seeing more people coming to them in a state of extreme need compared to a year ago. This is particularly common for charities that work toward the prevention or relief of poverty, with half of these strongly agreeing (52%) that they are seeing an increase in those in extreme need.

Two in every five charities (40%) said that they are helping more people to navigate public services than they were a year ago. This was reported by seven in ten charities that work towards the prevention or relief of poverty (72%) and six in ten charities that provide support, care or services (61%).
“We can no longer afford to subsidise the amount that we receive for adult social care - it only covers about 50% of what it costs to deliver the service.”
Support, care or services charity in the South East
“We have limited accommodation and so we cannot take more families than we have facilities to house them. However, the demand upon our services is growing as the cost-of-living increases.”
Prevention or relief of poverty charity in North of England
Cuts in NHS services have meant families are contacting us for help and assistance in the next steps after an autism diagnosis, overwhelming us for the level of help we give. We don’t like saying no however we also need to keep a check on our own mental health which is at a strain.
Support, care or services charity in the North of England
“It has been a challenging year and have seen a huge increase in housing and crisis need amongst our clients. Here's hoping for a positive 2024.”
Prevention or relief of poverty charity in the Midlands

Charities report low staff morale in the face of increasingly complex need


Staffing seems to be a major issue for many charities and their ability to cope with demand. Only two in five (40%) charities are confident they can afford to maintain current staffing levels over the next 12 months, which has fallen significantly from 53% in April/May 2023.

Despite many charities being overwhelmed with need, one in eight face having to make redundancies or reduce staff numbers.

Half of charities reported that the cost-of-living crisis is negatively impacting staff/volunteer morale (52%) and that they are struggling to recruit or retain suitably qualified candidates or volunteers (51%).
“Staff say the pressure to try and keep up with the demand and the emotional strain of having to turn away desperate people due to capacity issues has been a cause of severe mental health strain.”
Support, care or services charity in the South East
“Recruitment is our biggest inhibitor to expanding capacity  - harder to recruit suitably experienced staff than it is to recruit volunteers, but one does not replace the other. We cannot compete on wages, staff experience burnout due to level of client crisis. There are easier jobs for very similar money.”
Charity in the South East
“Staff morale. Constantly working with people who are experiencing more and deeper problems hits us all hard.”
Prevention or relief of poverty charity, South West England
“Relentless high complex referrals with staff that are not qualified to this high level."
Community organisation in the North of England

The Charity Resilience Index is stable at 68%

 

The Charity Resilience Index is unchanged at 68%.

Just half of charities have high levels of confidence in their ability to meet demand for their services, both now (49%) and over the next 12 months (48%). This is in line with what we saw in September 2023.

Confidence in the ability to afford overheads, such as energy, buildings and supplies, appears to be improving. This now stands at almost six in ten (57%) charities saying they are very confident, vs half (50%) back in September.
Figure 2 2

About the research

Data collection and sampling

A total of 653 charities were interviewed. Data collection took place between 8th and 20th December. Charities were invited to participate by email, and the sample was self-selecting.

Questionnaire design

The survey questionnaire was developed to monitor and understand the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on the charity sector in the UK and included demographic questions covering charity income/size, region and cause areas. The attitudinal questions were designed to cover a) the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on charities, b) actions the charities have taken or will take to face the current economic climate.

Resilience Index

The Resilience Index aims to summarise the factors that relate to the ‘resilience’ of the charity sector. It is built on six key attitudinal indicators grouped into three dimensions: income, demand and operating costs. Respondents were asked to rate their confidence level for each using an 11-point scale (from 0 ‘not at all confident’, to 10 ‘extremely confident’). The Resilience Index was tested using the data from the first wave of the pulse poll in October 2022. It has a strong statistical reliability (it has a Cronbach-alpha value of 0.908) and its six individual variables are statistically well grouped.

Direct comparisons with our previous Charity Resilience Index report should be made with caution due to some question changes (the ‘not applicable’ option was omitted from the Resilience Index questions and the ‘demand for services’ questions in the April-May survey) and differences in sample composition (the April-May wave had a larger proportion of Large and Very Large charities than other waves, and the September and December waves may have fewer Scottish charity respondents). In the September wave of fieldwork we also used a ten-point scale for the resilience index.