GambleAware calls for improvement on current account blockers


Issuing findings of research commissioned to review the availability, uptake, and effectiveness of bank card gambling blockers (blockers), GambleAware has emphasised that whilst blockers are effective controls must be enhanced to protect vulnerable people from gambling harms.

This review was carried out by researchers at the University of Bristol’s Personal Finance Research Centre (PFRC) and evaluates the potential for blockers to help people who want to control their gambling expenditure and interactions. 

The research found that eight financial service firms offer blockers on certain products and ranges, estimated to cover 60% of personal current accounts. Outside of these eight firms, no other organisations are currently offering blockers to all their customers. 

The researchers examined the effectiveness of blockers currently available and found that they needed to be significantly 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 underlined that elevated friction could be crucial if built into blockers, specifically highlighting time-release mechanisms.

When reviewing aggregated data and statistics shared by financial firms, researchers estimated that blockers are being used by roughly 0.5 million 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. Across all its customers with a card blocker, this represents 390,000-585,000 blocked transactions per month.

Commenting on the report, GambleAware Chief Executive, Marc Etches added: “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.”

Further insights detailed 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. 

Mapping out key potential next steps that should be considered in order to maximise the impact of blockers, researchers highlighted the following recommendations:

  • 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, Research Director of the PFRC at the University of Bristol, commented: “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.”