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Gambling charity criticises banks' use of card blockers

Gambling charity criticises banks' use of card blockers

A gambling awareness charity in the UK has criticised UK banks for failing to properly use technology designed to prevent users from accessing gambling sites via their debit and credit cards.

Research carried out by the University of Bristol on behalf of the GambleAware charity found that the technology works well but is not accessible to millions of consumers. 

So-called card blockers are designed to allow users with gambling problems to request that their card be blocked from accessing any gambling-related sites. But the research found that 40% of current accounts, equivalent to 28 million users, do not offer any card blocking features.

In all, only eight financial services firms offer blockers on certain products and ranges, including gambling-related sites. Furthermore, the report also found that were significant shortcomings even with those accounts that did offer card blocking services. For example, the feature could easily be turned off, rendering them more like a light switch than a lock, or else users could turn to e-wallets as a workaround.

Consequently, GambleAware is calling on the UK's financial regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority, to recommend gambling blocks are made standard features of all credit and debit cards and are also equipped with a time-release lock of at least 48 hours. The charity is also calling for an awareness campaign. 

From the aggregated data and statistics shared by financial firms, researchers estimated that blockers are being used by roughly 500,000 consumers. And the data shared by one bank offering card blockers revealed an average of two to three transactions per month per user were blocked, equating to between 390,000 and 585,000 blocked transactons per month. 

According to the UK's Office for National Statistics, the UK spent £14.5 billion on gambling in 2018, while gambling addiction is estimated to cost up to £1.2 billion per year. 

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