Safer gambling charity GambleAware has praised the ‘expertise’ of the Citizens Advice gambling support network in its recently published evaluation, identifying key facilitators, barriers and opportunities.

Citizens Advice screened a total of 30,000 people for gambling harm via the Gambling Support Service in England and Wales between October 2018 and March 2021, across offices spread throughout all 12 regions of the two countries.

GambleAware asserted that Citizens Advice had strong expertise in providing client support regarding sensitive issues, as well acknowledging the organisation’s respected community role.

Evaluators also found that front-line workers were well placed to successfully uncover and support clients at risk of and experiencing gambling harms.

However, the report – conducted by KantarPublic – noted that barriers in the provision of the Gambling Support Service were identified, notably with regards to screening consistencies across multiple Citizens Advice offices.

Inconsistencies in the frequency and format of screening questions asked were attributed to a lack of flexibility in screening questions, perceived stigma and the limited capacity of front-line workers across some offices 

The report added that strategic involvement and engagement by senior management could help to strengthen routine screening and aid programme success, whilst also observing that ‘top-down’ promotion of screening practices could positively affect the sustainability and long-term impact of the programme.

It was noted that this form of engagement helped facilitate stakeholder mapping and relationship building both within local offices and outside Citizens Advice.

Helen Owen, Evaluation and Monitoring Director at GambleAware, remarked.“This thorough evaluation has evidenced Citizens Advice’s important role in providing advice for people at risk of or experiencing gambling harm and signposting them to help.”

“Alongside this it has helped identify the main barriers to success for the gambling support service. With this understanding we now have a clear view on what opportunities there are to improve the service. The learnings from this evaluation have contributed to the commissioning of the new process and model, at a National Citizens Advice level.”

Further recommendations made by the evaluation team include the suggestion that further editions of the Citizens Advice programme should take a more flexible approach in the use of screening questions to overcome potential concerns and resistance around screening.

This, it is argued, would encourage more natural conversations with clients about gambling harms as a regular advice practice.

The report also stated that training given to front-line workers should more thoroughly and consistently address the issue of perceived uncomfortable conversations about gambling harms.

Training would be reinforced through discussions at team meetings and receiving personalised feedback, assisting with the reduction of front-line hesitancy and increasing confidence to ask questions related to gambling harm to identify at-risk cases.

Lastly, the report highlighted that the National Citizens Advice should promote its service more widely for future programme development, increasing the awareness about the gambling harm support it offers. 

It could also support the networking process across its offices and external organisations within the region to help secure buy-in and support for the programme at a local level.

“Problem gambling can have life-changing effects, not only for those gambling but for their family, friends and colleagues as well,” said Daniel Marshall, Head of Business Development at Citizens Advice.

“It’s so important that anyone who is struggling knows they can get help and that they don’t need to deal with this alone. We are very pleased to be working with GambleAware on such an important project.”

The report follows the publishing of GambleAware’s ‘commissioned research’ last month, which found evidence of ‘selection bias’ in research participants engaging with problem gambling online surveys.