GambleAware calls for standardised gambling payment blocking

7 July 2020

GambleAware has urged the government, financial institutions and regulators to ensure all consumers have the ability to block gambling transactions, after a new study estimated that 28m personal bank accounts in the UK do not yet have access to this functionality.

Carried out by researchers at the University of Bristol's Personal Finance Research Centre (PFRC), A Blueprint for Bank Card Gambling Blockers found that eight banks currently offer gambling transaction blocking technology. This covers 60% of personal current accounts in the UK, representing roughly 49m accounts. 

The software is also available to 40% of credit cards, or 26m accounts, though a ban on using credit cards to fund gambling has been in place since 14 April this year.

However, outside of these eight banks the tools are not yet readily available to account holders, the report noted. This means more than 28m accounts do not have the ability to block gambling products.

In terms of current usage of blocking tools, aggregated data and statistics shared by financial institutions showed that around 500,000 customers across all banks that offer this option have used the feature. According to data from one bank, those who used a blocker stopped an average of two to three gambling transactions per month, or between 390,000 and 585,000 transactions.

Researchers also noted the effectiveness of the current blocking tools available, saying that while these do work, improvements are required in order to offer greater protection to consumers.

Of the eight banks that offer blockers, three blockers could be turned on and off immediately, and therefore act more like a lock function rather than a blocker, while some customers had been able to find a way around the block in order to gamble. Furthermore, blocking functionality tends to be only available on certain products, and in some cases can only be managed via certain channels.

The report went on to raise concerns that not all customers were being made aware of blocking tools, with some 43% of respondents to an online survey saying they did not know the feature was available on their accounts.

“We examined the effectiveness of all existing blockers and found that serious changes are required,” PRFC research director Professor Sharon Collard said. “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.

“We are calling on the Financial Conduct Authority to urgently recommend that gambling blocks are standard on all debit and credit cards.”

In response to the report, both the PRFC and GambleAware put forward a series of recommendations that they said would help to improve access to blocking, as well as the quality of these tools.

Both banks and regulators should work with experts by experience - those with lived experience of gambling harm - to design products, services and interventions for people negatively affected by gambling, they said. This should be supported by enhanced guidance and policies to protect vulnerable customers.

Blockers should be made a standard feature across all bank cards, with financial institutions encouraged to highlight all available tools to help control gambling, supported by a cross-sector awareness raising camaign. All blocking tools should be built with a time-released lock so that the customer cannot immediately undo the transaction freeze.

The report also called on the Financial Conduct Authority to recommend that every new debit and credit card be designed with spending controls as standard. The government should also create legal and regulatory conditions to encourage the financial services sector to develop a range of consumer spending controls, it added.

Despite credit cards having been banned for gambling use by the Gambling Commission, GambleAware and the PRFC suggested that blocking functionality should be built into these products as standard to ensure the prohibition was effective.

In addition, the report urged credit reference agencies to work together to offer a ‘one-stop shop’ for customers to add a notice of correction to their credit files.

“Keeping people safe from gambling harms requires banks to play their full part in providing consumers with effective means to block gambling transactions," GambleAware chief executive Marc Etches said. “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.”