The Gamblers Consumer Forum recently wrote to both the Gambling Minister and the Gambling Commission to set out our alternative to affordability which would screen gamblers showing signs of clinical harm and proposes the use of an app to assess and signpost to treatment. They would better target those at most risk of gambling harm and allow the 99.7% of gamblers who are not classified as problem gamblers to not face credit and enhanced affordability checks which it is becoming quite clear cannot be carried out in a frictionless manner.
The two responses have now been received. The first noteworthy detail was that, although we wrote to the Gambling Minister, it was an unnamed ‘ministerial support’ team member who replied. There is therefore doubt whether the Minister even saw the letter and proposal, despite the fact it relates to a significant element of his brief as the Minister responsible for gambling.
The second point we noted is the similarity in the responses in which both the regulator and the Department responsible for controlling the letter reproduce a number of lines which could have come straight from an anti-gambling group.
The Gambling Commission response essentially suggests it is up to the Government, and that they are busy with the consultation responses (this could either the 2021 or 2023 one, as both remain unpublished)
The saliant part of the GC response stated ‘As you are aware, the Government set out proposals for the introduction of financial vulnerability and financial risk checks at defined thresholds in the Gambling White Paper. The White Paper set out that the Gambling Commission should consult on the use of our powers to implement the policy. The financial risk check proposals are not designed solely to identify ‘addiction’ – they are designed to help identify the risk of harm and support action being taken to reduce harm as part of wider customer interaction approaches. For example, an early customer interaction can facilitate a customer to continue gambling safely, which may not be appropriate where there may be ‘addiction’. That consultation closed on 18 October and we will now be considering the responses received before updating on any planned next steps. Throughout the consultation period and moving forward, we will continue to consider the perspectives of interested parties.
Your email proposes that notwithstanding the Government’s stated policy, the Commission adopt an alternative approach which includes the commissioning specifically of your Bettor Help app in an approach incorporating some new clinical screening questions and signposting.
The immediate priority for the Commission is to consider the responses and evidence submitted to our consultation in order to consider the best approach moving forward. This process is consistent with the commitments made in the Government’s White Paper and we will continue to liaise with Government as this work progresses. We do not consider it appropriate for the industry regulator to be the commissioner of central addiction screening and signposting services’
With this in mind, we go back to the Government/Civil Service response from DCMS. They reaffirm the government’s commitment to what they now term as ‘financial risk check proposals’ as there is a need to understand the context of a customer’s financial situation. The third paragraph is of interest: ‘We agree on the need to be proportionate and avoid undue intervention with those not at risk. For this reason, the proposed checks are only on the very highest spending customers, they are frictionless through the use of data sharing, and they do not come with blanket rules for operator interventions if there are no signs of harm.’
One has to ask where is the evidence for the highest spending customers to be targeted? why financial risk checks are the answer and what other proposals have been considered? There is also no mention of the risk of the black market.
Then there is the issue of the clinical gambling harm in paragraph 5. There is absolutely no reference or consideration to any clinical-based initiatives that have helped those addicted, across all addictions. It’s a rather odd line to take for a Government who just recently opened 7 new addiction clinics to help those struggling with gambling. We need a mechanism that will guide them towards these life-saving clinics, not measures that probe into an individual’s finance, with no evidence that this will help them. Both letters ignore this vital truth, which is symbolic for the entirety of this affordability checks saga: they don’t acknowledge that clinical-based solutions have a proven track record of success, and they don’t acknowledge that gimmicky schemes like affordability checks do not.
Again, the saliant part of the letter is reproduced below:
I would like to start by reaffirming the government’s commitment to the financial risk check proposals outlined in the gambling white paper. Understanding the context of an individual’s gambling can add significantly to an assessment of whether they are likely to be suffering harm.
A key external circumstance in this regard is a customer’s financial situation. Financial context can allow tailored interventions by an operator for the minority of individuals who are showing signs of gambling that is likely to be unaffordable to them (suggesting loss of control or harm), while allowing freedom for those who are not gambling in ways likely to be harmful to spend their money as they wish.
We agree on the need to be proportionate and avoid undue intervention with those not at risk. For this reason, the proposed checks are only on the very highest spending customers, they are frictionless through the use of data sharing, and they do not come with blanket rules for operator interventions if there are no signs of harm. The financial risk checks are also intended to operate alongside existing operator requirements to use a range of data to identify customers at risk of harm and to take action as a result. These operator rules specify seven relevant categories of “indicators of harm”.
All operators must monitor these indicators from the moment an account is opened, and the rules set out how operators must tailor the action they take based on these behavioural indicators. The indicators are based on the best available evidence, including the factors considered in harm screening tools like the one you propose. The government does not believe that clinical treatment is the only way to minimise gambling related harm. Our view is that individuals (including affected others), can suffer a range of harms from gambling, such as financial harms, without suffering from a gambling disorder.