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Gamble Aware urges banks to help problem gamblers

Written by: Emma Lunn
An anti-gambling charity has called on banks to improve the availability of bank card gambling blockers.

A report by Gamble Aware found that although the technology that enables bank customers to block gambling transactions on their accounts works, millions of people don’t have access to the card blocking system.

Bank card gambling blockers

A bank card gambling block is a feature that allows a debit or credit card customer to block their account or card from being used for gambling transactions.

The ability for customers to ask for payments to gambling sites to be blocked is considered important as it helps those whose betting is out of control.

GambleAware worked with researchers at the University of Bristol’s Personal Finance Research Centre (PFRC) to evaluate the potential for blockers to help people who want to control their gambling.

It found that just eight financial service firms offer blockers on certain products and ranges, estimated to cover 60% of personal current accounts.

The eight brands that offer blockers are: Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds, RBS, Santander, Cashplus, Monzo and Starling.

Outside of these eight firms, no other organisations currently offer blockers to all their customers.

The report says this means that more than 28 million personal current account customers are missing out on an important tool to block gambling expenditure.

Blocker effectiveness

The researchers examined the effectiveness of blockers currently available and found that they needed to be improved.

Of the eight banks that offer blockers, three blockers could be immediately turned on and off, meaning they function more like a light switch than a lock.

The report suggested it is essential for more friction to be built into bank blockers, and suggested time-release locks that are at least 48 hours.

Researchers estimated that blockers are being used by roughly 500,000 customers across all banks that offer blockers. Data disclosed by one firm showed that customers who turned on the blocker stopped an average of two to three gambling transactions per month.

Other key findings in the report include a low level of awareness of blockers amongst a range of customers and that gamblers were finding workarounds to their gambling block such as cash withdrawals and using e-wallets.

Call for gambling blocks to be standard

Professor Sharon Collard, research director of the PFRC at the University of Bristol, says: “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.”

Marc Etches, chief executive of GambleAware, says: “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.”

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