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GambleAware urges UK Finance to get strict on Gambling Blockers

GambleAware has this morning published insights from research it commissioned on public uptake and effectiveness of bank card ‘gambling blockers’.

The charity sanctioned researchers from the University of Bristol’s ‘Personal Finance Research Centre (PFRC)‘ to evaluate the effectiveness of blockers and its potential as a tool to prevent gambling harms.

The PFRC’s research estimated that at present 60% of UK current accounts are covered by blocker services, with just eight banking apps offering the tool to customers on certain products.

The research stated that approximately 28 million personal current accounts offer no services restricting gambling expenditure.

Reviewing aggregated data and statistics shared by financial firms, the PFRC underlined that blockers are being used by roughly 0.5 million customers across all banks.

Data disclosed by one bank showed that customers who turned on blocking services an average of two to three gambling transactions per month. Across all its customers with a card blocker, this represents 390,000-585,000 blocked transactions per month.

GambleAware Chief Executive Marc Etches said: “Keeping people safe from gambling harms requires banks to play their full part in providing consumers with effective means to block gambling transactions.

“While some banks have taken proactive steps to help shield their customers from gambling harms, the findings of this research indicate that improvements can and should be made. We encourage the banking industry to work together alongside the Government and regulators to implement the proposed recommendations.”

Analysing the effectiveness of blockers, the PFRC detailed a number of flaws in the service. Of the eight banks that offer blockers, three tools could be immediately turned on-and-off, with the PFRC labelling provisions as ‘more like a light switch than a lock’.

The report urged banks to add more friction to its blocker services, specifically time-release locks that are at least 48 hours. Moving forward, GambleAware has called on UK Finance to ensure all its members offer card blockers that have a time-release lock mechanism.

Seeking to maximise the effectiveness of blockers, GambleAware has compiled a ‘blueprint of recommendations’ for UK Finance and further financial services stakeholders, including:

  • Firms and regulators need to work with ‘experts by experience’ so they can design products, services and interventions for people who are negatively affected by gambling.
  • UK Finance needs to build the report’s recommendations into their member guidance and policy on supporting vulnerable consumers.
  • The Financial Conduct Authority should recommend in its guidance on vulnerable customers that gambling blocks are standard on debit and credit cards.
  • A cross-sector consumer awareness campaign that places bank card blockers alongside other forms of self-exclusion and player control is needed.
  • The UK Government needs to create the legal and regulatory conditions to encourage the financial services sector to innovate and develop a range of consumer spending controls.

Professor Sharon Collard, PFRC Research Director at the University of Bristol, said: “Our research has found bank card gambling blockers are not available on roughly 40% of personal current accounts. This means an estimated 28 million people are missing out on this crucial tool to block gambling expenditure which helps protect them from gambling harms. We are calling on the Financial Conduct Authority to urgently recommend that gambling blocks are standard on all debit and credit cards.

“We examined the effectiveness of all existing blockers and found that serious changes are required. The people affected by gambling harms who took part in the review stated that the more positive friction that can be built into a bank blocker, the more effective it can be. It is vital, therefore, that the blockers cannot just be turned on and off, as the benefits of the technology become redundant. Instead, we recommend all financial service firms require consumers to wait at least two days between requesting to turn the blocker off, and the blocker technology stopping.”

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