Sarah Garnder: UKGC consultation conclusions due this summer

UKGC to proceed with pilot test on customer affordability checks

The UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) has announced that it will proceed with the next steps to implement affordability checks on remote gambling operators.

The decision was announced this afternoon by Tim Miller, Executive Director of Policy Development for the Gambling Commission. Affordability checks were deemed a key protection needed to “identify and take action for customers who may be financially vulnerable”.

“We have been working closely with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to ensure that the next steps closely reflect the intention of the White Paper. That is, that the process of conducting these checks will be frictionless for the vast majority of customers who undergo them.”

As outlined in September 2023, the Commission proposed that ‘light checks’ be applied on customer net losses of £125 (without bonus funds) within a rolling 30-day period or £500 within a rolling 365-day period.

A higher level of inspection will be carried out on gambling accounts with losses greater than £1,000 within a rolling 24 hours or £2,000 within 90 days. The Commission endorsed evaluating whether “triggers for enhanced assessments should be lower for those aged 18 to 24”.

The implementation will begin at the higher £1,000/£2,000 threshold and then move to the lower threshold to ease the process of the Commission’s two-stage approach to testing customer affordability.

As cited, “Our approach is that consumers should not be affected during a pilot period to make sure that we can refine the data-sharing processes before the assessments are rolled out in a live environment.”

The Commission will launch a pilot for enhanced financial risk assessments, informed by credit reference data for high loss levels, to carefully test data-sharing practices with credit reference agencies and gambling businesses.

The pilot will involve the cooperation of select operators for a 4-to-6 month period, focusing on data-sharing practices without immediate action needed on data exchange.

Five principles have been assigned to gauge the performance of the pilot, including refining data-sharing models, ensuring a frictionless assessment process, supporting at-risk customers, integrating financial risk assessments with other protections, and conducting a formal policy evaluation.

UK operators were reminded that “financial risk assessments are only one part of the controls and protections that are in place – we do not seek to make them a standalone approach to tackle harm”.

Mandatory affordability checks are needed to strengthen the UK gambling sector’s multifaceted approach to protecting consumers.

The update concluded, “At the Commission, we completely understand why there has been such interest in financial risk checks. But it should be remembered that protecting people who are vulnerable, while still affording the freedom of others to gamble safely, is complex and there is no single solution.

“That is why we will continue to take forward all of the Government’s White Paper proposals, which we believe can significantly support and protect consumers and improve overall standards in the industry.”

Next Monday (26 February), Parliament will debate the proposed plans on affordability checks in response to UK racing’s petition to “abandon financial risk checks as proposed by the White Paper.”

As it stands, gambling stakeholders await the UKGC’s publication of the full details of its consultation findings on affordability checks, due to be published next month, concluding the second phase of the Gambling Review’s White Paper consultations.

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